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A review of SGA’s legislative progress: Here’s what your campus reps have done for you

Once a month, representatives from each campus convene for the University-wide Senate, presided over by SGA University-wide President Jazmin Mejia. Photo by Sylvester Silver III | The Signal

More than 2,500 students voted in the 2019 Student Government Association election, launching 35 student-representatives into elected office. Now seven months into their terms — along with many new appointments to the Senate — it’s time to review their progress.

You may wonder what your new representatives have been up to, what legislation they’ve passed and how they’ve represented your needs this fall semester. We have those answers, plus some self-analysis from the representatives themselves.

The 2019 University-wide Senate has passed a total of four special orders and four bills. In contrast, the previous year’s Senate had passed six bills, two resolutions and five special orders by this time last year. From a purely legislative perspective, that’s a 38% decrease in productivity.

Here’s a look at what representatives across the university are most proud of — and how they think they’re failing, too.

University-wide Senate

In the University-wide Senate, eight pieces of legislation have passed. Three of them seated new members of the Senate, and the others formed a GILEE Ad Hoc Committee, amended Perimeter College meeting protocols, implemented roll-call voting, modified the Perimeter College Committee and updated the Bylaws.

Five pieces of legislation were introduced but not passed. One sought to seat new members, and another was a former version of the roll-call voting bill. 

The three remaining bills which did not pass introduced two topics that caused quite a stir within the legislative body. The first was a proposal to rotate the location of meetings for the University-wide Senate among Georgia State’s six campuses.

Wake Forest University

The bill dominated much of the discussion at the September meeting, when it was first introduced and failed in a vote, and at the October meeting, when many senators convened on the Alpharetta campus instead of the Atlanta campus meeting location, an apparent show of support for the contentious legislation.

A second version of that bill was referred to the Bylaws Committee at the latest Thursday meeting. 

The next bill was also referred to the Bylaws Committee but would have placed a constitutional amendment on the spring election ballot to change the number of university-wide seats from 46 to 31, with 16 seats from the Atlanta Senate and 15 seats from the Perimeter Senates combined. 

The current model bases the number of seats on the number of students enrolled in the previous fall semester.

Both bills have caused division in the Senate. This past Thursday, a large portion of the Senate opted to meet on an alternate campus again, this time choosing the Newton campus, video calling in. Of the EVPs, only the Atlanta EVP was physically present at the Atlanta campus meeting.

When speaking to senators about the University-wide Senate, almost everyone showed some level of dissatisfaction.

“I don’t think as a University-wide Senate we have done as much to help the students as we have on an individual campus level,” Atlanta Speaker Kaelen Thomas said.

Clarkston EVP Yasmin Henry feels that the University-wide Senate is “stagnant” right now and divided by “sides,” with an “us vs. them” mentality. 

“We are fostering negativity, hostility towards one another and we are supposed to be unified,” she said. “We have the tools that we need, some of us are just a little too prideful to be able to actually make those positive changes.”

Atlanta EVP Hamza Rahman also used the word “stagnant” to describe the University-wide Senate and said he’s not satisfied with its productivity.

University-wide President Jazmin Mejia said she’s proud of the work on different campuses, such as the improved food options at Clarkston and Dunwoody and the continuation of the Flower Initiative, a goal to provide feminine hygiene products to all six campuses, from the last administration.

She is also looking forward to bringing a university-wide initiative for census outreach, working in conjunction with the City of Atlanta.

However, Mejia said she is also paying attention to the recent tension within the University-wide Senate and hopes it’s something they can improve on in the future.

“I want all of this passion to be geared more toward student legislation,” Mejia said. “We are here to represent students.”

Atlanta Senate

On the Downtown campus, a total of 22 pieces of legislation were introduced to the Senate, all of which passed. And of that legislation, all but one served the purpose of seating new members of the Senate.

The remaining legislation established an Ad Hoc Committee for Government and Community Affairs.

The Atlanta Senate recently hosted constituent outreach events for all colleges, with the J. Mack Robinson College of Business constituency day to be held on Wednesday, Nov. 20.

According to Speaker Thomas, there has been “record involvement” in SGA this year, with more than 300 students interested in working in SGA. EVP Rahman echoed this sentiment.

“Students are actually reaching out to us; students are actually using us as a path to get what they need,” Rahman said.

As a result of Sen. Spencer DeHart’s successful lobbying to the Georgia State University Police Department, Thomas noted that there has been an increase in police patrols in Blue and Green lots and student escorts after “a string of violent incidents across campus.” 

Last year, Student Services Chair Jessica Seimer began an initiative to develop a commuter student meal plan, something her successor Jonathan Tshizubu has worked to continue this semester, according to Thomas.

“I don’t think I will ever be satisfied because I know that there is always more that can be done to help students,” Thomas said. “However, that is not a reflection of my Senate but a reflection on myself as a leader.”

Rahman hopes in the next semester to interact more with the Greek community and increase activity with the Governmental Affairs Ad Hoc Committee.

“I think our Senate has done a phenomenal job,” he said. “I am satisfied but more can and will be done.”

Clarkston Senate

Two pieces of legislation to seat new senators were passed in the Clarkston Senate.

The Clarkston Senate hosted a Coffee Corner event to meet with students and hear their concerns, much like the Atlanta Senate’s constituent outreach events. They have also increased meal choices for students, introducing vegan and halal options, according to Ashrakat Hassan, senator for academic affairs. 

“On the Clarkston campus, there are a lot of students with religious dietary restrictions, so that’s something that’s making them feel included,” EVP Henry said.

Hassan said the Clarkston Senate is looking into providing cameras in the locker room because of an area where the male and female locker rooms intersect. Hassan said the legislation will be passed after they finish researching the issue.

“I’m very proud of my Senate and how we work together. We have a lot of transparency and nothing stays a secret at Clarkston,” Henry said. “Not to sound boastful, but one of our biggest drawbacks is being a little too ambitious.”

Henry said they have gotten a lot done, especially from what she set out to do before she was elected.

“I feel like we have a lot left to do and a lot left to get done,” she said.

Dunwoody Senate

No legislation was provided by representatives of the Dunwoody campus and no legislation has been published in the online legislative docket.

“No legislation was passed as of recently. None introduced recently,” Speaker of the Senate Hephzibah Jonathan said in an email.

Similar to the Clarkston Senate, Dunwoody has also expanded cafeteria options, bringing in halal options, an effort overseen by the Muslim Students Association committee led by former EVP Mohamad Alo.

The Senate also hosted a drunk-driving segment twice this semester, a money management event and a stress management event.

When this article was first published, Jonathan said the Senate was pushing for a more permanent solution to numerous potholes in the parking lot on the Dunwoody campus.

However, President Mejia later said she delivered a presentation to the Administrative Council on Oct. 3 with all of SGA’s initiatives. Included in this presentation were the concerns SGA had regarding Dunwoody’s pothole problem.

According to Mejia, Jerry Rackliffe, senior vice president of Finance and Administration, said that after she presented, he was shocked to learn that the issue was causing students’ cars to break down.

Mejia said Rackliffe took Ramesh Vakamudi, vice president of facilities, with him to the Dunwoody campus to inspect the potholes. 

“They immediately covered the potholes with a semi-permanent solution then stated all of the parking lots will be paved by next semester or the summer depending on the speed of the workers,” Mejia said. “It’s been an issue for years and I’m so glad the 90th administration got it fixed.”

The Senate is also working on balancing “the disproportionate [prerequisite] classes required for some particular courses on the Perimeter Campuses that is not required on the Downtown campus.”

This semester, they were met with a refusal from the Science Executive Council regarding the prerequisites required for particular classes. 

“We were hoping this issue would have been resolved by this semester so our students could take advantage of the adjusted change come spring 2020, unfortunately it is not so, but we are still working on this,” Jonathan said.

According to Jonathan, the Dunwoody Senate had only two senators this year: himself and the senator for government and community affairs, Michelle Martinez. 

“The Dunwoody Campus senate is most proud about being able to run the campus even without sufficient members,” Jonathan said. “We had to plough through running the campus affairs without adequate manpower and now we are excited for new members joining us.”

Newton Senate

In Newton, the only legislation to pass the Senate was a bill to seat Speaker Pro Tempore Charlie Gongora, according to EVP Cassie Turner.

“However, the passing of legislation is not a measure of Newton’s overall success. The legislation’s purpose is to uphold and maintain the Bylaws,” Turner said. “We are still working on getting all of our legislation posted to the website. So, if you do not see it posted yet, that is why.”

The Senate has been working to provide students better access to the Access and Accommodations Center by fixing the elevator and eventually relocating the center to the first floor.

“While Newton is continuing to work on this goal, it is not progressing as quickly as we would like,” Turner said.

Turner said the biggest accomplishment for the campus has been a visit by Congressman Hank Johnson to discuss the upcoming census.

She said there were 75 people in attendance with two members of the Census Bureau there to detail possible job opportunities and common misconceptions about the census.

Overall, Turner said she is “absolutely satisfied with the work ethic of Newton’s Senate.”

Alpharetta and Decatur Senates

Alpharetta EVP Chase Ritterbusch, Speaker Asya McDonald and Communications Director Allison Guerrero, and Decatur EVP Hadeija Manais and Speaker De’Mona Reid all were contacted via their official SGA emails three times for their response on the legislative progress of the Alpharetta and Decatur Senates.

The Signal also announced that responses were needed within 24 hours at the Nov. 14 University-wide Senate meeting.

After all four attempts, The Signal still received no response from the representatives of these two Senates by print deadline.

No legislation is listed online for either Senate in the legislative docket.

90TH ADMINISTRATION FALL LEGISLATION 

Atlanta

Legislation introduced but not passed

  • None

Legislation passed

  • Seat Members of the Atlanta Senate Academic Affairs Committee
  • Seat the Communications and Finance Directors
  • Seat Members of the Atlanta Senate Student Engagement Committee
  • Seat Members of the Atlanta Senate Student Services Committee
  • Seat the Speaker Pro Tempore
  • Seat Members of the Senate Student Services Committee — Jonathan Tshizubu
  • Seat Members of the Senate — Danny Mai
  • Seat Members of the Senate — Jhane Jones
  • Seat Head Senators — Danny Mai
  • Seat a College of the Arts Senator — Jhane Jones
  • Seat RCB Senators — Jhane Jones
  • Seat an Arts and Sciences Senator — Jhane Jones
  • Seat Freshman, Transfer and Transition Liaisons — Jhane Jones
  • Seat Head Senators — Jhane Jones
  • Seat College of Law Senator — Jhane Jones
  • Seat Head Senators — Jhane Jones
  • Seat Members of the Senate for the AYSPS — Jhane Jones
  • Seat Members of the Senate for the College of Education and Human Development — Jhane Jones
  • An Atlanta Campus Special Order to Seat Transfer Liaisons — Jhane Jones
  • An Atlanta Campus Special Order to Seat the Atlanta Campus Election Commission — Jhane Jones
  • An Atlanta Campus Special Order to Seat the Atlanta Campus Election Commission — Gail Sutton
  • Establish an Ad Hoc Committee for Government & Community Affairs — Audrey Abraham

Clarkston

Legislation introduced but not passed

  • None

Legislation passed

  • To Seat the Speaker of the Senate and Members of the Senate
  • To Seat Members of the Senate

Dunwoody

Legislation introduced and legislation passed

  • No legislation was provided by representatives or was available from the online legislative docket
  • “No legislation was passed as of recently. None introduced recently,” Speaker of the Senate Hephzibah Jonathan said in an email.

Newton

Legislation introduced but not passed

  • None

Legislation passed

  • Seat the Speaker Pro Tempore — Charlie Gongora

University-wide

Legislation introduced but not passed

  • Seat Members to Perimeter College Committee (TABLED)
  • Add Location Rotation for University-Wide Meetings – Senator Janii McIver (NOT PASSED)
  • Add Roll-Call Voting – Senator Kalil-Anderson Garrett (REFERRED TO BYLAWS COMMITTEE)
  • Place a Constitutional Amendment on the Spring Election Ballot to Change University-Wide Seats from 46 to 31, with 16 Seats from the Atlanta Senate and 15 Seats from the Perimeter Senates Combined (REFERRED TO BYLAWS COMMITTEE)
  • Add Location Rotation for University-Wide Meetings (REFERRED TO BYLAWS COMMITTEE)

Legislation passed

  • Seat Members on the Bylaws Committee
  • Seat Members on the Safety Committee
  • Formation of GILEE Ad-Hoc Committee – Senator Nigel Walton
  • Seat Bylaws Chair – Jhane Jones
  • Amend Perimeter Meetings Protocol – Senator Janii McIver 
  • Add Roll-Call Voting 
  • Modify Perimeter College Committee
  • Update Bylaws

89TH ADMINISTRATION FALL LEGISLATION

Atlanta

  • 11 Special orders

Alpharetta

  • 1 special order passed

Newton

  • 4 Special orders

University-wide

  • 6 bills passed
  • 2 resolutions passed
  • 5 special orders passed

Editor’s Note: The information in the list above was provided via representatives themselves or through the online Legislative Docket.

A previous version of this article said there was no permanent solution to the potholes on Dunwoody campus, according to the Speaker of the Senate Hephzibah Jonathan. President Mejia reached out to explain that there had been a solution, it just had not been conveyed to Jonathan in time for him to include it in his response.


Update (11/19/2019 at 3:45 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Dunwoody Senate has two senators. In fact, it has one.