The Georgetown University Student Association senate voted in favor of an amended bill that would include student body members on the GUSA ethics and oversight committee, which aims to improve the internal accountability of the senate and GUSA’s executive branch.
Ethics Committee Chair Zev Burton (SFS ’22) and Vice Chair Chris Ziac (COL ’22) introduced the initial bill at the meeting, citing the necessity of third party students in enforcing the accountability of GUSA members. While the first iteration of the bill, which was also introduced at the Oct. 27 meeting, altered the GUSA bylaws to include more student body members than senate members on the committee, senators voiced concerns about representation of senate members in the new structure.
Senator Peter Hamilton (COL ’20) introduced the “5-5 Compromise Amendment,” named after a proposed split of five senators and five nonsenators on the committee, to address these concerns. After the introduction and passage of Hamilton’s amendment, the final bill passed the Senate in a 25-2 vote after over an hour and a half of debate. Hamilton’s amendment also altered the bill to allow the two executive liaisons voting privileges on the committee.
The amendment served to balance the voting power of senators and the student body committee members on the committee from the original bill, according to Hamilton.
“The reason I introduced the amendment was because it was very clear to me that the way the bill was in its current iteration wasn’t gonna get that many votes,” Hamilton said in an interview with The Hoya. “The senate has more important things to be focusing on than to spend an hour and a half debating the structure of one ethics and oversight committee.”
Under the new structure, the committee will consist of six senators, including the chair of the committee, two executive liaisons and three student body representatives. Each committee member will have the ability to vote, and the committee chair’s vote will be used as a tiebreaker when needed.
The new framework diverges from the previous committee structure, which consisted of five voting senators, including the chair and vice chair of the committee as well as the vice chairs of the other major senate committees. While executive liaisons to the committee have always existed, they did not possess the ability to vote on measures.
Two senators, Harrison Nugent (SFS ’20) and Eric Bazail-Eimil (SFS ’23), voted against the bill. Bazail-Eimil is preparing to challenge the legislation in the coming weeks with the GUSA constitutional council, the body of GUSA that determines whether legislation adheres to the GUSA constitution.
Giving executive liaisons the right to vote on the committee effectively gives the power of impeachment to the executive branch, which would be unethical since members of the executive branch should not have the power to oversee impeachment proceedings within the same area of GUSA, according to Bazail-Eimil.
Despite planning to bring the measure to the constitutional council, Bazail-Eimil still supports general reform efforts to the ethics and oversights committee.
“I’m very supportive of chairman Burton’s efforts to crack down on a lot of the other failures of the ethics committee,” Bazail-Eimil said in an interview with The Hoya. “My issue is with whether the committee as a structural body can be constituted like that.”
The senate ethics and oversight committee was originally created in October 2018 to monitor potential conflicts of interest and track senators’ attendance records at meetings. During the transition senate, transition ethics and oversight committee chair Leo Teixeira (COL ’21) led a working group to assess and provide recommendations on ways to improve the committee.
Burton, along with Ziac, who served on the working group before being elected to an at-large senate seat this fall, incorporated the working group’s recommendations in the original bill that was introduced Sunday, according to Ziac.
Burton hopes to confirm the executive liaisons to the committee within the coming weeks and complete an application process for the student representative positions, he said.
“Hopefully by, if not this Friday, but the next ethics and oversight meeting next Friday, we will have a full, functioning and honest committee,” Burton said.
As the committee’s vice chair, Ziac believes the legislation’s changes will benefit students across campus with the implementation of new student representatives.
“For one thing, it provides another opportunity for students interested in GUSA to get involved with GUSA through being student reps.,” Ziac said in an interview with The Hoya. “I think that by having this committee more standardized and more representative of GUSA and the student body, hopefully we can cut down any drama and make sure these processes seem free, clear, open.”