The ASUCR meeting on Wednesday, May 27 centered on discussion and debate over SB-S20-007 Amendments to Chapter 10, 8, 2 and 4 of the ASUCR Bylaws and SB-S20-011 The R’Gear Initiative. SB-S20-007 requested to increase the ASUCR Executive Vice President’s (EVP) yearly stipend from $7,425 to $9,900. SB-S20-011 would ensure an allocation of $40,000 to the R’Gear initiative, a tradition at UCR which seeks to provide free sweatshirts to students and elevate school pride.
At the beginning of the meeting, Vice President of Finance Carolyn Chang motioned to include in the agenda a discussion and approval of the 2020-2021 finance budget. President Pro Tempore (PPT) Miguel Ramirez, expressed concern over the short notice of the motion, requesting more time to look over the budget. Chang and EVP Abigail Cortes stated that notice had been given at the previous ASUCR meeting held on Wednesday, May 13; ultimately, no senators seconded the motion and it failed to pass. The approval of the 2020-2021 finance budget will be discussed next week.
During public comment, multiple students and members of the incoming senate expressed their concern over SB-S20-011. ASUCR Vice President of Internal Affairs (VPIA) Jocelyn Ortiz spoke first stating, “Our funding and allocations define our values and what we prioritize.” Ortiz urged senators to vote in the best interest of students and instead allocate those $40,000 to aid students who are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Former GSOE Senator Evelin Castaneda stated that next year’s senators should be voting on the allocation because it directly affects their budget and expressed her disdain over her difficulty in finding the senate meeting Zoom link. Castaneda stated that she had to scroll to an email sent by ASUCR on April 1st to find the link as it was never updated on ASUCR’s website or promoted through social media.
Vincent Rasso, director of government relations and incoming VPIA, added that it may not even be safe to hold such a large event on campus and stated, “You all understand the implications that our current circumstances have had … the incoming senate should decide how to ethically spend the AS budget.” Incoming CHASS senator Alyssa Marchan and student Julian Brambila echoed the sentiments of the students who had spoken previously, emphasizing the importance of the decision made by the senate.
SB-S20-007 Amendments to Chapter 10, 8, 2 and 4 of the ASUCR Bylaws had been previously denied at the senate meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 5. The senate bill would make changes to the EVP’S bylaws pertaining to the roles, responsibilities and structure of the EVP’s office while also equalizing the pay gap between the EVP and the other four members of the executive cabinet (ECAB). Currently, the ASUCR president, vice president of internal affairs, vice president of external affairs and vice president of finance all have stipends totaling $9,900 for 12 months while the EVP has a stipend totalling $7,425 for 12 months.
According to Chapter 8 Section 7 of the ASUCR bylaws, stipend increases should not exceed 25% of a position’s existing stipend and are only allowed under exceptional circumstances, which must then be approved by a two-thirds vote from the ASUCR senate. The stipend increase from $7,425 to $9,900 exceeds the 25% mentioned in the bylaws by 9%. The bill also adds responsibilities to the EVP’s role including hosting weekly legislative review reading sessions, training newly appointed senators and senate interns, responding to agenda requests by outside parties, executing at least one campus project, event or program, meeting with the ASUCR president regularly and sitting on two campus wide committees.
PPT Ramirez highlighted that the stipend increase did not follow an exceptional circumstance, therefore the 25% had been exceeded and the bill could not pass. “I think a large pay disparity of almost $3,000 for a position that has been predominantly held by 6 women in the past years is a pretty exceptional circumstance,” stated Cortes. She added that the reason for the pay disparity is because the EVP position has evolved over the years and the stipend was never increased to reflect such changes. ASUCR President Julian Gonzalez added to the discussion stating, “I don’t understand why there is a double standard … EVP Cortes has done so much work this year that is done alone,” adding that the EVP does not have staff members like the other officials in the executive cabinet. “I don’t see the logic with not wanting to make something equal,” stated Gonzalez.
CHASS Senator Isaiah Kim was in favor of the bill and stated that when the bill was voted on in February it was approached in a different manner. Kim added that the pay disparity unconsciously puts ECAB on different tiers. Chang was also in favor of the bill and expressed to the senate that this will directly affect next year’s EVP. “The fact that you are not voting to increase this (stipend) is saying that it’s a personal vendetta,” stated Chang. VPIA Ortiz suggested that the stipend increase be lowered to meet the 25% requirement which would make the senate more willing to comply.
CHASS Senator Angel Cuevas asked for incoming EVP Natalie Hernandez’ opinion on the matter. She stated, “The reason why I did not put my name on this bill is because it is a conflict of interest.”
Initially, ASUCR Executive Director Laurie Sinclair believed that the majority vote must exceed 9 yes votes to pass. However, seeing as stipend increases require a 2/3rds majority vote, the actual vote needed to pass would be 11 yes votes. The initial vote for the bill was 10-2-4, meaning that it did not meet the 2/3rds requirement and failed to pass.
When the senate was made aware of this misunderstanding, Cortes asked the members of the senate to clarify their vote and it changed to 10-3-3. However, no motion was made to approve this revote and according to Robert’s Rules of Order, “A member has the right to change his vote up to the time the vote is finally announced. After that, he can make the change only by permission of the assembly, which may be given by general consent; that is, by no member’s objecting when the chair inquires if any one objects. If objection is made, a motion may be made to grant the permission, which motion is undebatable.”
Cortes, Gonzalez, Sinclair and ACUCR’s Parliamentarian Grace Flanagan also had a misunderstanding over whether abstentions are counted towards the majority vote or not. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, abstentions have the same effect as a no vote if the vote requires a majority or two thirds of the members present. This was not clarified in the meeting.
Hernandez then stated that she would like to change her vote from abstain to in-favor, an action highlighted by Sinclair as a conflict of interest. A motion was approved for a revote and SB-S20-007 passed with a final vote of 11-4-1. Sinclair stated in an interview with The Highlander that, due to concern over improper voting procedures, SB-S20-007 is currently under review by the Judicial Council. The fate of the bill will be discussed further during next week’s senate meeting.
The senate also went into discussion over SB-S20-011 The R’Gear Initiative, which was authored by Gonzalez. The bill states that since R’Gear began, it has established itself as a valuable program for the undergraduate student population and intends to inspire campus pride as well as, fortify and unify Highlander identity. The bill would also require the addition of the ASUCR R’Gear Steering Committee, tasked with planning and executing the annual event. SB-S20-011 would solidify R’Gear as a permanent event and the amount allocated can be discussed by the senate every year.
Gonzalez addressed the concerns that were made during public comment stating that the purpose of R’Gear had been misinterpreted. Gonzalez also stated that the amount of support ASUCR will be giving to students will not be decreased by the allocation, adding that the adjustments made to the entire budget allowed for this to happen. He highlighted the work that ASUCR has done during spring quarter to assist and advocate for students during the pandemic, adding that they are all students as well. “I don’t want something that has done so much good for AS to be hindered by only the few five students who came to voice their concern because if there was a big concern or disapproval over this event … this would have been canceled years ago,” stated Gonzalez.
During discussion over the bill, Ramirez stated that R’Gear is a controversial event every year and believes that next year’s senate should have the right to vote on it. He also raised concerns over the large number of students that attend the R’Gear distribution every year, considering the statewide restriction of large scale events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gonzalez responded by stating that the bill would not guarantee an R’Gear event next year but it will aid in establishing R’Gear as a permanent event in the future. SPP Senator Emily Thomas suggested that the bill be categorized differently instead of being specifically allocated towards R’Gear.
Vice President of External Affairs and incoming ASUCR President Luis Huerta acknowledged that the bill is controversial and added that all members of ASUCR are there for the best interest of students. He stated that he is a proponent of the initiative and added, “We have to be wise and definitely concerned with where these dollars are going to be allocated.” He stated that curtailing the R’Gear event to winter quarter will help students to get acclimated with UCR again if fall quarter were to be held online. “If we don’t host our largest event, it is a disservice to the students,” stated Huerta.
Cortes initially believed that because the final vote was 6-6-4, she would be able to break the tie; however, this was deemed to be untrue. Sinclair told The Highlander that SB-S20-011 ultimately failed to pass with a vote of 6-6-4 because the bill required a majority vote of 50% plus one, totaling to 9 yes votes.
The senate also approved SB-S20-008 Amending Chapter 8 and Chapter 15 to include three paid positions under the marketing and promotions director. The revisions include a 12-month stipend of $1,320 for a head graphic designer and videographer and a 9-month stipend of $990 for a second videographer. SB-S20-006 Relocation of the Outreach Director Position, SB-S20-009 Revisions to the Elections Code, SB-S20-010 Amendments for Chapter 11 of ASUCR Bylaws and SB-S20-012 Revisions of President Bylaw also passed.
The meeting ultimately adjourned at 9:12 p.m.