ASUC Senate Faces Stalemates

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News Analysis: ASUC Senate Efficiency

Valerie Woolard examines how the length of recent ASUC Senate meetings may impact senate efficiency.

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As UC Berkeley students readied for 8 a.m. classes last Thursday, members of the ASUC Senate wrapped up their seventh meeting of the semester, which had been called to order just after 7 p.m. the previous evening.

At 12 hours and 45 minutes, it was the longest ASUC Senate meeting this semester so far-but not by much. The average meeting length so far this semester has been nearly nine hours, ending at 12:30 a.m. at the earliest. In comparison, the ASUC Senate's first seven meetings last year each took less than six and a half hours on average.

In light of the lengthy meetings and late nights, several senators are saying they are concerned a lack of bipartisan cooperation is causing the senate to operate inefficiently.

"It's been really bad, we've spent several hours debating about $50," said Eddie Nahabet, a Student Action senator. "The senate has been horribly inefficient."

Christian Osmena, a former Unite Greek senator, said the long meetings pose a problem for the ASUC in terms of maintaining transparency.

"It is unreasonable to expect students to be able to monitor their ASUC when senate meetings go well into the morning," he said.

Many of the long debates on the senate floor have been related to funding and how much should be allocated to different student groups. During last week's meeting, a funding bill for a Black Women's Appreciation event was debated for about three hours.

Several senators said they felt the evenly split composition of the senate-which contains eight CalSERVE senators, eight Student Action senators and four third-party senators-has caused legislative stalemates and made the senate's debates unnecessarily drawn out.

"Both Student Action and CalSERVE have an equal number of seats, so they have the power to block a vote," said Christina Oatfield, a cooperative movement senator. "The senators come united together, and unite against another party."

Van Nguyen, last year's ASUC President and a former CalSERVE senator, said that in the time he spent in the senate, less debate took place because one party held the majority of seats.

"There are stark differences between when I was a senator and now," he said. "There was a heavy majority for Student Action."

After the first meeting of the semester ended just after 7:30 a.m., more than 12 hours past its start time, many senators said Executive Vice President Krystle Pasco was unorganized and unfamiliar with the rules, causing the meeting to run unnecessarily long.

Pasco acknowledged that the meetings have been long, which is detrimental to the senators' health and academics, but said she feels the ASUC has been productive.

"I don't necessarily think that it's a bad thing, because it's really about the process," she said, adding that this year's debates have involved pressing financial matters such as the ASUC's limited finances and the current economic crisis.

SQUELCH! Senator John Moghtader said Pasco should not be blamed.

"She's been improving, but the senators really haven't been," he said. "It's only going to get better if the senators do what it takes to make it better."

Pasco further noted that the senate has passed more legislation this year than it had by this time last year.

The senate and its associated committees have considered 82 bills so far, compared to the 57 that had been considered by the seventh meeting last year.

In response to the long meetings, Berkeley College Republicans Senator Tommy Owens announced last week that he will be forming a non-partisan group of senators to discuss ways to reduce meeting length.

"With all due respect to my fellow senators, senators love to hear themselves talk," Owens said.

Owens said he hopes the meeting length can be reduced by shortening the announcements and special orders that come at the beginning of each meeting, which sometimes last until 10 or 11 p.m., rather than shortening the time spent debating bills.

Nguyen noted that a divided senate could cause more than just internal problems, but also impede its ability to work on larger issues.

"When there is internal disagreement, it makes our ability to work with administration that much more difficult," he said. "It inhibits our ability to fight these issues as a unified front."


Valerie Woolard covers student government. Contact her at [email protected]

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