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Senators table reform changes

Nov. 12, 2010

Starr makes first Senate appearance

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Nick Berryman | Lariat Photographer
President Ken Starr speaks to members of Student Government during a meeting Thursday in Cashion Academic Center.

By Sara Tirrito
Staff Writer

President Ken Starr spoke at Student Senate for the first time Thursday night, calling on the senators to act as ambassadors for the scholarship initiative, to become a part of the strategic planning conversation and to serve the Waco community through Greater Waco Education Alliance's mentoring program.

At the meeting, a bill intended to reform the Student Government electoral code was discussed for more than an hour before being tabled by the senator who led the revisions, Ft. Worth senior Daniel Houston, president pro tempore of the Student Senate and chairman of the operations and procedures committee.

The revisions were meant to remove ambiguities in the electoral code that have previously caused misunderstandings between candidates and the electoral commission, Houston said.

"In the past we've had individuals every single year that I can think of... get called into the electoral commission for offenses they did not know were infractions and they did so because they had a different interpretation of the code, due in large part to the ambiguity of the code. That's one of the things we're really looking to address," Houston said. "In addition to that, I feel like the criteria by which the electoral commission decides how severe a sanction should be are fundamentally flawed, and that's why we added those in the changes."

Senior senator Katie Jo Baumgardner said the revisions are necessary because the code has become outdated in that it does not reflect changes such as the major role social media has come to play in student life or changes that have been made in Student Activities policies.

"I think one of the really important reasons that these changes needed to occur and do need to occur is because you're looking at a document that hasn't been seriously revised while any of us have been at Baylor," Baumgardner said. "I'm a senior, and this is the first time substantial electoral code changes are being made. There have been various problems every year regarding elections that have brought forth the necessity of changes, but this is the first time that someone's willing to really go forth with that."

Last year's internal vice president race, in which then-junior Paul Baumgardner was disqualified because of election violations involving Facebook and "coalition campaigning" with his sister Katie Jo, is only one example of why the revisions are needed, Houston said.

"We did not structure any of our changes around any one particular thing that occurred. We were looking at problems in the electoral process over the course of multiple years," Houston said. "In my personal opinion, Paul Baumgardner's disqualification was one example of a reason why reform is needed."

Katie Jo said the incident with her brother is not the driving force behind her support of the revisions.

"Our reasons for doing this are not based on last year. Our reasons for doing this are because there are flaws inherent in the system that need change," Katie Jo said. "The fact that Paul is my brother is a fact and that can't be separated, but again you're getting to the heart of what was the problem was last year, and that failure that people have to separate between student government, campaign, who I am, who he is and the fact that we do share the last name."

Houston chose to table the bill Thursday night because of what he called a surprising number of amendments that were brought forward. Houston said that although a form of the bill had been public for two weeks, he had not been contacted about the majority of the amendments prior to the senate meeting. There is not a set date for the bill's second appearance in the senate. Katie Jo said she is confident Houston can make the necessary changes to the bill so it will be accepted by the student government.

"Daniel Houston has shown tremendous dedication and commitment to not only reforming the electoral code, but to making the Baylor student body constitution a better document," Katie Jo said. "I think there's no doubt that Daniel

Houston can bring forth an electoral code that is agreeable to student government in every branch, to the senate, to the electoral commission and to the student court."

In other business conducted at the meeting, Starr also took questions from the senators concerning various issues.

One issue brought up was the legislation recently introduced to the state House concerning conceal and carry handgun laws for college campuses. Starr said the university has begun discussions on the topic, which will be continued today, and does not support the legislation.

"We're opposed to it. We think it's unwise," Starr said. "A number of us are aware that this is a very popular measure. It's already been introduced earlier this week in Austin, so we will look for you to help us think this through in terms of an appropriate legislative strategy."

A bill requesting $12,249 from the Student Government Allocation Fund to the Interfraternity Council to put toward an event, ice skating on Fountain Mall, was also passed at the Student Senate meeting. A resolution was also passed determining that Baylor's 101st Homecoming, at which Baylor gained bowl-eligibility for the first time since 1995, will now be referred to as "Bowlcoming."