In the late minutes of ASG’s Tuesday meeting, the first new piece of legislation that was passed is intended to define what conflict of interest means to the senators.
The Ethics Reform Bill of 2006 was narrowly approved by the Senate in a 16-15 vote. The numbers were slightly skewed, as eight members of the Senate left before the meeting ended, a little after 10 p.m. One senator abstained from voting.
The bill describes a “conflict of interest” as “an action of ASG which includes … financial business of an individual group or RSO [that], may directly affect, presently or in the future, a specific group or RSO of which an ASG agent is a member.”
Sen. Robbie Jones, the author of the new bill, had spent the last week redefining his bill as to make the language clearer.
Several senators said they were unsure as to what “conflict of interest” meant, as well as ways in which those conflicts directly affect ASG members, especially in the future.
Despite the close vote and arguments, Jones said he was happy that the bill was approved by the Senate.
“I think this is something the Senate has needed to implement for a while,” Jones said. “I’m glad we can start things off on the right foot.”
The loudest opposition to the bill came from Sen. Jonathon Powell, who argued not that the bill was unclear, but that it was not the job of the Senate to interpret the code and constitution of ASG. It is, in fact, a clear violation of the ASG code and constitution to make any such interpretation, he said.
“I object to it because it violates the code and constitution. The only right the constitution gives the Senate is to write bills and resolutions,” Powell said.
He said he has no objections against the bill and thinks the bill itself is a good thing.
“It’s not that I don’t support the bill. I am all about making people responsible for their actions,” Powell said.
Senators have gone outside the realm of their authority if they begin to interpret the constitution, he said.
The Senate should wait until a possible violation of conflict of interest happens during the Senate meetings and then take that case to the Associated Student Government Judicial Board, which will set a precedent for the issue.
Senate Chair Kris Zibert also thinks the bill was not necessary because of its inappropriateness on the Senate floor.
“I feel if someone is violating the ethics code and is in conflict of interest you should report them to ASGJ for review, Zibert said. “You can’t prevent conflict of interest from the procedural side. It’s not in my authority.”
Zibert stressed that it wasn’t right to try to prevent people from voting in Senate votes.
“I would not want anybody to have the power to say who can vote. It’s way too easy to abuse.”
Andrew Humphrey was one member who voted against the bill. He said he voted no on Bill 2 because it was trying to turn the Senate into the judicial board.
“Basically, what they were trying to pass was an interpretation. Of course, an interpretation is an opinion,” Humphrey said, who also stressed that it is ASGJ that should write opinions.
Jones’ attitude and composure won him a vote from at least one senator who didn’t seem too concerned with whose job it is to make interpretations.
Jones is a member of the Young Democrats, the biggest RSO in the Senate, and a group which stands to lose the most if an issue arises in which they are involved, said Sen. Bradley Diggs.
“He showed his belief [in the bill] by supporting it. The bill could shoot anybody in the foot and if he believes in it that much, then I thought, ‘Go for it.'”
While the bill defines what a “conflict of interest” is, Jones said it will not prevent those senators who might be guilty of violating the bill from participating in the voting process.
“If a person wants to break the ethics they swore to uphold, then that’s their moral problem,” Jones said.
The idea of the responsibility of senators to be honest was one of the few things the opposing groups agreed on.
“We need to trust those in the system to have integrity, to abide by ethics and the spirit of the rules and procedures,” Zibert said.
Zibert said that it is the job of the ASGJ to rule on the appropriate punishment for those who violate conflicts of interest. Since the restructuring of ASG three years ago, only one violation has been brought to the ASGJ and there was no ruling made by the board.
Powell said he and others plan to take the bill to ASGJ in the following weeks in hopes of having it declared unconstitutional.
To bring the issue to the ASGJ, Powell and the opposition party need 100 student signatures, a majority vote from the Senate, or one signature from an executive, he said.
– Arkansas Traveler, Sept. 29, 2006
[Original Article available here.]