Undergraduate Student Government Tempe voted Tuesday to change its bylaws to add clauses that more clearly define what is considered partisan and how to handle legislation deemed partisan.
Senate Bill 47, which passed with a two-thirds majority, explicitly defines "partisan" as anything intending to influence the passage of specific legislation or the success of a political campaign. In addition, "political" is defined as "relating to the public affairs of a governing body."
The bill encourages USGT to advance amendments and resolutions that "provide direct resources or opportunities for the ASU undergraduate student body."
To ensure USGT follows this mission, the bill establishes a system where partisan leaning legislation will only be deliberated on the senate floor if it is backed by a two-thirds majority vote. The procedure would be used if a senate president believes a piece of legislation promoted a partisan agenda or did not directly aid ASU students.
USGT has defined itself as a non-partisan governing body in Title IV, Section 5 of its bylaws. Yet, USGT Senate has debated its relationship with partisan politics for the past three years, as senators have questioned the body's jurisdiction to pass resolutions written with a partisan slant. USG resolutions are formal, non-binding statements created to represent the beliefs and attitudes of the student body.
Senate President Marco Huerta said the bill was drafted in reaction to the senate's debate on a resolution supporting the Equal Rights Amendment in February. Before it was passed, some senators argued USG did not have the jurisdiction to advance the resolution because it showed support for a specific piece of federal legislation.
"That was done with the intention that senators would refrain from just trying to serve their own interests or their own party's interest or their own political ideology's interests," said Huerta, a senior studying public policy and political science.
There was conflict within USGT in 2020 about Senate Resolution 4, which aimed to defund ASU's police department after the death of George Floyd. During the subsequent year, Senate President Katherine Hostal took the BDS resolution off the Senate agenda at the last minute because it was believed to be outside USG's jurisdiction as a non-partisan governing body.
The BDS resolution, part of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction Movement, aimed to have the University agree to boycott the Israeli government and divest from Israeli companies until the country recognized the rights of Palestinians.
Izaac Mansfield, a senator for the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and sponsor of SB 47, said the system provided by the bill would give future senators guidance on how to handle controversy.
Aaron Goldschmidt, a senator for the W.P. Carey School of Business, who vocally opposed the ERA resolution due to questions about USG's jurisdiction, expressed support for SB 47 during Tuesday's meeting.
"I think it directs the energy of USG to finding substantial solutions for students' problems, rather than just acknowledging them," said Goldschmidt, a junior studying business and supply chain management.
Joe Pitts, a former USGT senator for W. P. Carey who voted against both the BDS resolution and SR 4, said he believes adding more clauses defining partisanship encourages rather than prevents senators from giving their own spin on what counts as partisan.
"In fact, I think more words on the page means there's a little bit more wiggle room on what can and can't be defined as apolitical," said Pitts, a junior studying civic and economic thought and leadership and management.
Nora, the president of Students for Justice in Palestine who asked her last name be omitted because she has been harassed on social media, said knowing more about what was in USG's jurisdiction could have encouraged clearer communication.
This would have helped SJP make the adjustments needed since they "would have known what about BDS could apply to ASU," Nora said. SJP coordinated with USGT senators for two months to draft the BDS Resolution.
Mansfield said similar resolutions that support a political movement could be seen again on the senate floor under USGT's current definition of partisanship.
Pitts said while the bill may assist the senate in avoiding being partisan, partisan politics will always be present and play a role in USG.
"There will always be people who are elected to the senate, and there will always be people elected to USG in general, who are … going to be interested in promoting their own political ideology," Pitts said. "You're never going to get around that problem."
Alexis Waiss is a reporter for the politics desk. She joined the State Press in Fall 2021 and has covered state legislature, Arizona politicians, university policy, student government, the city of Tempe and stories highlighting social justice.