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Friday, November 16, 2018

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SGA battles student hunger one bill at a time


The Homeless Student Relief Act was read in the Senate for the first time during the Oct. 17 meeting. | Photo courtesy of the Student Government Association

During a packed Student Government Association meeting Wednesday night, the SGA Senate passed the Homeless Student Relief Act to offer discounted prices for students who may not otherwise be able to afford a meal plan.

The act would allow a maximum of 50 students to receive a 70 percent discount on meal plans. SGA President Cameron Barrett said the prices of other meal plans would not increase as a result of this new option.

“I think homeless students are some of the most ambitious and passionate students we, as a University, could have,” Barrett said. “Imagine going to class and not knowing where you’re going to sleep that night. I think it’s important we do as much as we can to support these extraordinary and courageous students.”

He said he has been working with Auxiliary Services for nearly four months to actualize the plan to aid some of the University’s more vulnerable students. The cost per meal on the reduced plan would total about $2.80, which he believes is a good deal.

Auxiliary Service — not students — will cover the costs associated with offering such a reduced meal plan, Barrett said.

“Auxiliary will be paying for the discount themselves, so for each homeless student that receives a meal plan courtesy of SGA, it costs Auxiliary over $1,800,” Barrett said. “Essentially, Auxiliary Services is subsidizing each homeless student who gets a discount by over $1,800.”

Not only will the bill discount the price of a meal plan, but it will exempt qualifying on-campus students from the mandatory meal plan that accompanies living in most residence halls.

“The Financial Aid department will identify the number of homeless students based on the FAFSA filings each fall semester, communicate this list with Auxiliary Services, who will make the offer to the eligible students, whose aid does not exceed their cost of attendance,” according to the act.

SGA hopes the plan will go into effect Fall 2019, but the UH System Board of Regents will first need to approve the addition of the special meal plan at an upcoming board meeting.

Internal changes

The Senate also passed was the Election Day Reform Act, which changes the voting days for SGA elections. Currently, students vote on six days spread out across multiple weeks. The change instead opens voting for a one-week period at the end of February.

According to the bill, the change would help prevent voter fatigue and maximize voter turnout.

“I don’t think that you using just last year’s data is a great measure of success in terms of voter turnout,” said Chair of the Senate’s University Administration and Finance Committee Tomas Bryan. “You would have to go back at least two or three years.”

Barrett said during the meeting that he did not wish to sway the vote because this change would affect the senators the most. He abstained from the vote along with numerous senators.

The Senate also passed the Solution to Proxies Act, which internally affects the organization by limiting the number of absent senators an individual senator can vote on behalf of during a given meeting. Previously, senators could vote for an unlimited number of their peers. This act allows only one proxy per meeting per senator, increasing to two allowed proxy votes per senator during a special Senate meeting.

Further adjustments to the bylaws and constitution were passed during the meeting. These adjustments erased any mentions of “Senate Journal” or “Student Government Association Journal” from the constitution and bylaws due to the lack of clarity surrounding the journal. It also changed the words “Court of Appeals” to “Supreme Court or designated lower court.”

“These just are not things,” Barrett said about the journals. “I don’t know what they are.”

The second part of the amendment was a shortening of the time one can be punished for an infraction of bylaws within the Senate from 90 class days to 60 calendar days. The last part of the adjustment was an extension of the time an SGA president must send recommendations for student regent to the chancellor.

Future legislation

Multiple bills and acts were read for the first time during the meeting before being sent back for revisions.

The first read was the Student Hunger Act, which has many parts.

If passed, the bill would assist in turning the convenience store by Taco Cabana into a food pantry paid for by Auxiliary Services, which oversees Dining. The act would also allow students to donate five nonperishable food items in exchange for $25 toward on-campus parking fines.

In addition to the Senate, the food pantry would need the approval of the Food Insecurity Work Group, a UH-based task force on the issue.

A first-time read that caused confusion among the senators was the Election Code Amendment: Pre-Campaigning. This amendment would define campaigning within the Senate’s constitution.

A symbolic resolution in response to the recent synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was read, asking the Senate to share its condolences with those affected by the shooting.

The Response to Anti-Semitism and Religious Student Harassment Resolution also urges students and officials to work toward a more welcoming environment for all students by cultivating a culture of inclusion, according to the resolution.

Finally, the Enacting a Final Examination Policy was read to the Senate for the first time. This bill would put pen on paper to what many professors already do. The policy would not allow more than one exam or final project worth more than 15 percent of a student’s grade to be taken in the final week of classes.

Two new appointees were voted in at the meeting. Business administration sophomore Sangeetha Ranadeeve was approved to the CAPS Advisory Committee and the Health Center Policy Board, and political science student Vanessa Beltran was voted into the Substance Abuse Prevention and Education Committee.

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