ASUAF split over controversial senate bill

Jeremia Schrock
February 22, 2011

Sending student representatives to petition in Juneau is a longstanding tradition of ASUAF, the student government. Every spring semester, a group of students is dispatched to the state capitol to discuss student concerns with members of the state house and senate. This year, ASUAF allotted $6,000 for the effort and ultimately chose 14 students to make the trip.

However, the road to Juneau has been paved with conflicting concerns, an executive veto and allegations of misappropriated funds.

On Feb. 6, the ASUAF senate voted to approve SB 176-005: Juneau Legislative Conference Spring 2011, which would allow them to spend up to $10,000 dollars to send an advocacy team to Juneau. This legislation also included a list of those who would go. A week later, the senate passed SB 176-009: Representation to Juneau 2011, which would have provided funding to send two additional students to Juneau: Sen. Josh Cooper and former-Sen. Monica Kunat.

The bill passed the senate but was vetoed by President Nicole Carvajal.

The senate needs at least two-thirds of its voting members to override a presidential veto. On Thursday, Feb. 17, the senate held a special 9 p.m. session to vote on the override. Carvajal’s veto was overturned by a vote of 6-3, with Cooper casting the final vote. The same Cooper who is in the bill.

“I’m disappointed he ended up voting,” Carvajal said.  “He absolutely should not have done that.” There is nothing in ASUAF’s bylaws that prohibits a senator from voting on legislation that directly affects him or her.

Carvajal confirmed as much, but believes that Sen. Jennifer Chambers “was bending the rules and interpreting them the way she wanted to” in order to send Carvajal a message.

What’s the message? “A lot of senators think that I hold too much sway with the senate, I think that’s what this is about,” Carvajal said. “I think she’s wasting student money to do that.”

Also of concern to Carvajal was the cost. Tickets were first purchased for $424.90. After the veto, Cooper’s and Kunat’s tickets were cancelled. However, after Carvajal’s veto was overturned, new tickets had to be purchased for $719.30. This is $38.60 more then the $1,400 they were allotted in SB 176-009.

Sen. Sophia Grzeskowiak-Amezquita did not attend the special session, but voted in favor of overturning the veto by proxy through Chambers. She missed the initial vote for SB 176-009 and felt she had a “moral obligation” to overturn the veto. Chambers also cited ethical concerns stating, “There were significant issues with the selection process.” She did not comment further.

Grzeskowiak-Amezquita also said that since the money had already been appropriated, there was no good reason to not send them. “I felt like [the veto] was a disservice to them.”

One senator who voted against overturning the veto was Robert Kinnard III. Kinnard felt that ASUAF had enough representatives for the trip and that purchasing new tickets at a higher cost would be a misappropriation of funds. Not only that, but he felt Cooper and Kunat were in the bottom half of the candidate pool and that the Public Relations Committee “didn’t do the greatest job of sorting through candidates.”

Kinnard added that he would never vote for legislation that he had a vested interest in, but said he approved of Cooper voting his conscience. “I don’t knock him for it, I’m glad he felt the need to vote.”

“At the end of the day, it’s all about helping the students,” Kinnard said. “What’s done is done.”

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