In the middle of the UF Student Government Senate meeting Tuesday, 26 senators left the Zoom call at once. The meeting ended shortly afterward.
A “quorum bust” forced the meeting to end after three bills were passed, including one that would allocate $500,000 from the SG reserve account, an account with more than $4 million that collects leftover money at the end of the year, to students for rent relief. The minority party leader also stepped down from his position and announced the formation of a new coalition during public comment.
Sen. Zachariah Chou (Inspire, Murphree) said he organized what he called a “quorum bust,” a way to end a Senate meeting early, by arranging for senators to leave and causing the number of representatives present to no longer meet quorum, the number of senators required for a meeting to be official. Senate meetings need 51 members to meet quorum.
He organized the “bust” because he and the Inspire Party minority caucus opposed a bill up for vote that would remove a rule requiring a two-thirds Senate majority vote to elect Executive Cabinet officers. It would instead lower the requirement to a simple majority, or half of the senators present, and also automatically appoint nominees for officers if Senate does not hear and vote on appointments within three school weeks.
“This 200 bill is one of—if not the worst—thing that you can legislatively do to a minority party,” he said in an interview with The Alligator after the meeting.
The two-thirds threshold for voting on Executive Cabinet Officials is put in place specifically to protect the rights of the minority party, he said. Chou also said recess appointments, where officer appointments are automatically confirmed if not heard in three weeks, are problematic.
The Executive Cabinet Officials, which oversee chairs that manage aspects of student life, are important because they represent students, Chou said.
“These are supposed to be the everyday heroes that are supposed to help every student in every single aspect of their lives,” he said.
During public comment, several senators spoke against the bill. During a debate on a motion to remove the bill from the agenda, some called the bill an abuse of power and said that it should not have been passed by the Judiciary Committee. The bill was not removed from the agenda after a roll call vote.
Sen. Shawn Zimmer (Inspire, District D), who will now be the minority party leader, said during public comment that Gator Party, which won the majority in Senate and the executive ticket in Spring, created this bill after some of Student Body President Trevor Pope’s nominations for executive agency heads were not approved at the end of the Spring semester.
“This bill, in its current form, is a nonstarter for us,” Zimmer said. “If they want to work on a method that is bipartisan and fair in deciding agency heads, I’m all ears.”
Zimmer said he will be in contact with the majority party leader, Sen. Gabi Zlatanoff (Gator, District A) who authored the bill in order to move forward.
Zimmer also said that his goal with "quorum busting" wasn’t to antagonize Gator Party, and that he aims to pass bipartisan legislation.
“I’m sure that some people felt antagonized by that [the quorum bust], but that wasn’t necessarily our goal,” he said.
During public comment, Sen. Colin Solomon stepped down from his position as the minority party leader and announced the formation of a new group, the Action UF Coalition. The coalition currently has three members, according to Solomon.
Action UF will not be a party in the Fall, he said. He described the coalition as “a group of independent senators who don’t like the divisiveness of the chamber.”
“We’re not doing this for personal gain or for the gain of a party,” he said. “We’re doing this because we were elected as senators, and we want to see changes that the party system has undermined our ability to do.”
Solomon said a difference in beliefs and governance, as well as a disagreement over the general direction of the party, led him to disaffiliate and step down, and announced Zimmer as his successor.
The coalition’s main goal will be to work on bipartisan legislation, he said. As a new coalition, he plans to work with Zachery Utt (Inspire, Engineering) on a bill announced in Senate last week. It would allocate $160,000 from the SG reserves account to provide Wi-Fi hotspots to students who have unstable internet conditions resulting from changes due to COVID-19, he said.
Three bills were passed at the meeting and will go into effect immediately.
SG Senate President Kyle Garner wrote that the “quorum bust” won’t affect passed legislation in a text to The Alligator.
Senate voted unanimously for the second week in a row to pass a bill that would transfer $500,000 from the SG reserve account to students struggling to pay rent, making the bill law. The application will open Wednesday, Pope wrote in a column for The Alligator.
A bill that will allow leftover student organization funds to roll over from one semester to the next also passed unanimously after it was unable to be presented to the chamber in Spring due to scheduling conflicts.
Student organizations protested in Fall after SG began allocating funding on a first-come-first-served basis. The changes in distribution came after Young Americans for Freedom settled a $66,000 lawsuit with UF in Summer 2019 for denying it funding for a conservative speaker, which the organization claimed was a violation of free speech.
After the change, organizations said they had to look for other forms of funding to continue their usual operations.
Another bill that will reorganize executive cabinet positions passed unanimously. The bill will create a new position, called the Transition Division Chairperson, to oversee several new directors, such as the First-Year Experience Director and the PaCE Director. These positions aim to help non-traditional students transition into UF.
A resolution, or declaration of opinion from the chamber, passed unanimously. It recommended that UF students abide by all university procedures for handling COVID-19 and that they recognize the sacrifice of those on the front lines.
Due to the “quorum bust,” a resolution encouraging students to take part on May 28 in the Great American Takeout, a day recognizing and supporting restaurants, was not voted on, and only one Summer replacement Senate seat was voted on and passed. The takeout resolution and the rest of the replacement Senate and committee seats will be voted on at the next meeting May 26.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Gabi Zlatanoff is a senator for District A, and that Sen. Shawn Zimmer will be the minority party leader.