The Associated Students of Colorado State University succeeded in granting religious groups representation in the student body Wednesday night, yet struggled to define representation in the organization when they failed to gut a potentially risky clause from their constitution.
The clause, which allows under-represented student groups to apply for a senate seat, opens the door for legal liability, according to several University sources.
ASCSU created senator seats for the Multi-Faith and Belief Student Council with Bill #4609, but failed to eliminate the petition process for attaining representative seats in the student body with Bill #4610.
The bills were voted on for a second time following their initial votes on the senate floor prior to winter break. As the bills amend the ASCSU constitution, they are required to be voted on twice with a two-thirds majority in order to be ratified.
Only Bill #4610 was passed, incurring a vote of 18-4-4.
The Multi-Faith and Belief Student Council will bring religious representation to the student body, a particular item which became a focal talking point during the debates surrounding the Diversity Bill last year.
“While we do have the trappings of a government, what we’re really here to do is represent student voice … I think that given the way we’ve moved forward, religion needs to be an aspect of (representation),” Bill author PJ Seel said. “When it comes down to it, religion affects every part of who we are as individuals, and I think it’s an important part of what it means to pursue an education.”
On the other hand, Bill #4609 failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required to ratify it, defeated by 17-9-0 vote, or 65 percent.
Bill #4609 sought to eliminate the petitioning process mentioned in last year’s controversial Diversity Bill. The petitioning process required any student organization representing a “historically underrepresented population not currently represented in the student body” to receive a two-thirds majority vote from the senate in order to receive senate seats.
According to members of ASCSU, the petition clause could pose a legal liability for the organization in the future. Legal liability could arise if a petitioning student group is a protected class under the U.S. Constitution and fails to achieve a two-thirds majority vote in the senate.
A proposed amendment to Bill #4609 on Wednesday night would have added a sunset clause to the bill, which states that if an alternative to the petition process is not found by the end of the 46th ASCSU Senate, then the petition process would be reinstated.
A number of senators threw their support behind the amendment, citing it as a means to keep work towards finding a solution accountable.
“At the baseline currently … a petition process does not exist,” said senator Isabel Brown in support of the amendment. “We never explained how to petition (in the Diversity Bill), we don’t know how that looks like and that’s why we’re at a position of legal liability. With the amendment, we find a way to draft some sort of alternative petition process.”
However, the amendment was met with significant opposition from a number of senators and was defeated on the floor.
“If we’re supposed to be serving our students like we say we are, shouldn’t we be giving them the best quality from the get-go? (If) that’s just an amendment that says, ‘as long as we have a process,’ then that’s not fair to (students),” senator Isaiah Martin said, addressing the wording of the amendment.
Another issue surrounding the petition clause was a lack of clear definition within ASCSU as to what constitutes a “historically underrepresented” group.
During the bill’s last presentation on Dec. 7, ASCSU Vice President Mike Lensky called for a clearer definition of the term, and urged the legislative body to research potential definitions over the break.
Bill #4609 has been on the senate’s agenda since November of last year. It was defeated two weeks before the start of winter break, after which it was then reintroduced to the floor during the last senate session of the fall semester.
While ASCSU is not currently being sued, the organization was advised by University lawyers to either define the petition process or remove the clause. According to several members of the body, the bill’s failure causes the organization to remain at a legal liability as long as long as the petition clause is in place.
Collegian reporter Gabriel Go can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rgabrielgo.