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SGB round-up: everything you need to know for 2017

SGB+members+say+they%E2%80%99re+trying+to+broaden+their+reach+and+get+students+interested+in+student+government+before+elections+on+Feb.+21.+Will+Miller+%7C+Senior+Staff+Photographer
SGB members say they’re trying to broaden their reach and get students interested in student government before elections on Feb. 21. Will Miller | Senior Staff Photographer

SGB members say they’re trying to broaden their reach and get students interested in student government before elections on Feb. 21. Will Miller | Senior Staff Photographer

SGB members say they’re trying to broaden their reach and get students interested in student government before elections on Feb. 21. Will Miller | Senior Staff Photographer

By Alexa Bakalarski and Leo Dornan / The Pitt News Staff

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This year’s Student Government Board has passed fewer bills and resolutions than in past years, focusing its efforts instead on planning events and reversing a waning interest in student government.

Although SGB — made up of eight board members, plus a President  — is meant to function as a governing body, its only direct power at Pitt is to decide on how Pitt’s student activity allocation funds — which full-time students pay $80 for each semester — are spent. Student interest in the board has been low. At meetings, the only attendees other than the board members themselves tend to be members of student groups looking for allocation money. Elections have not generated much involvement either — not a single board candidate has run unopposed since 2014. In SGB’s 2016 election, 2,665 students voted to elect President Natalie Dall and her running mates, a drop from the 2015 election, in which 4,127 students voted.

With a new communications department and First-Year Council, SGB members say they’re trying to broaden their reach and get students interested in student government before elections on Feb. 21.

“This will help just get our name out there and make people aware of what SGB does,” Max Kneis, vice president and chief of finance, said. “This will be especially important with elections coming up.”

So what exactly does SGB do?

SGB holds meetings on Tuesday nights in Nordy’s Place on the basement floor of the William Pitt Union. Members chat and snack on popcorn before getting settled to take care of business.

The Board only began passing formal bills in the spring of 2014, and has passed 40 since then, but it can also hold events and pass resolutions urging the University to take a certain action. SGB can also support or oppose a piece of state or local legislation as it did this semester when it passed a resolution in support of a Pennsylvania House of Representatives bill improving on hate crime legislation.

The bills passed in SGB meetings only affect the internal workings of the Board, adapting and reforming the code and ethics of the student body as the years go on.

Last semester, one bill made SGB’s governing code more inclusive and the other prohibits Allocations Committee members from presenting budgets. Another bill that the Board will vote on this month proposes changes to the student elections code.

This semester’s Board was composed mostly of SGB newcomers, including junior Joseph Kannarkat and senior Samantha Jankowitz which could account for the fewer than average number of passed bills in the fall.

Jankowitz said the Board is working to its greatest capability, taking into account the full-time student status of the Board members.

“I wish we could do more, but we are restrained by time and schedules,” Jankowitz said in an email. “Whenever we are not in class we are in the office working on initiatives, so I hope that shows.”

Despite not ending the semester with many concrete resolutions, Kannarkat said he was surprised at how busy the Board has been.

“This semester was really eventful,” Kannarkat said. “Coming in I hadn’t really been exposed to how much SGB did.”

Dall said the Board has tried to host events that correlate with the topics students are most interested in, including Mental Health Awareness Week and the Financial Literacy Conference — both of which were based on feedback from students after previous events.

SGB will also produce Pitt Voices this spring, a photojournalism project that will culminate in a published magazine at the end of the semester. The Pitt News is part of that initiative.
“We have a lot planned for the next few months,” Dall said in an email. “And we hope to engage students as much as possible in our events and in our initiatives to ensure that our work is representative of what concerns our students.”

Dall, a senior biochemistry major, ran for president based on a platform that promised to address sexual assault by creating a more cohesive manual, improving reporting on campus and improving Pitt’s sexual assault education. Dall’s platform also included getting more students involved with SGB. The Board added the First Year Council and the communications department with the hopes of increasing student involvement last semester, and continued Pitt’s It’s On Us campaign with a T-shirt initiative aimed at encouraging students to talk about the issue. Most of her first semester initiatives were about awareness — she hasn’t yet created a new sexual assault manual or unveiled any suggestions for improving education or reporting standards.

“We laid a lot of foundational work for different events that will take place this semester and encouraged groups to collaborate with us [this semester,” Dall said in an email. “I look forward to seeing how the relationships our Board members and committees built last semester continue on as we close out the year.”

Bills, Bills, Bills

While SGB’s current structure has been in existence since 1971, the Board only began formally writing bills in the spring of 2014, under former president Michael Nites and his Board.

Prior to this, the structure of the Board was written out, but no documents actually detailed how it should function.

Before SGB began writing formalized bills, the Board voted on bylaw changes — the original governing code — in public meetings, Dall said.

Bills only pertain to the internal workings of SGB and aim to amend the governing code and introduce any new parts of the government. With the governing structure set up under Nites and his Board, subsequent Boards have generally just refined existing documents to adapt to changes at Pitt or improve SGB.

According to its website, SGB has passed 40 bills since 2014. Without including the outlier of the 20 bills passed in the spring of 2014, the number of bills passed by SGB per semester averages out to 3.6 bills — the fall semester, which only produced two bills, is slightly behind that average.

SGB passed its highest number of bills in a semester — 20 bills — during the spring of 2014. The then-SGB passed its first nine bills on Jan. 14, 2014, when bills such as the creation of the SGB governing code passed.

In the fall of 2014, SGB passed five bills, two of which established the Office of Sustainability and modified the SGB elections code. SGB passed six bills in the spring of 2015 and passed one bill –– which created an alternative Allocations Committee member selection process –– during the fall of 2015. By comparison, SGB passed four bills in the spring of 2016, with one of the passed bills introduced in December 2015.

Last semester, SGB passed BB 39 to correct several grammatical errors and change the language of the Board’s governing code to make it more inclusive. Specifically, SGB changed from referring to pronouns to using the title of the office instead. The original documents used all male pronouns.

BB 40 , which took effect last semester, provides some accountability for SGB. SGB members and Allocations Committee members are no longer allowed to submit or defend allocations requests. Previously, there was no rule barring members from presenting allocations requests that would benefit themselves or their colleagues.

Since the Board spent most of last semester planning, Dall said the members will be able to write some of their work in the official governing code with bills this semester.

“We plan to pass more bills towards the end of the year,” Dall said. “If the First-Year Council and the communications department work out, then we will write those into the structure.”

Resolutions

Besides passing bills, SGB formally expresses the collective view of the Board through resolutions ー taking symbolic stances on issues such as sexual assault awareness on campus and the creation of Pitt’s thrift store, Thriftsburgh.

SGB passed five resolutions each year during 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, but broke the trend by passing only two resolutions in 2013. SGB passed its highest amount of resolutions — eight, with a ninth withdrawn — in 2014. SGB did not pass any resolutions in 2015, but passed two resolutions in 2016 — including the one passed last semester.

SGB plans on presenting a couple more resolutions this semester, Dall said. The students is currently waiting to see if anything comes up that warrants a resolution.

“If there’s something that we feel compelled to speak on we may do a resolution,” Dall said. “We’re looking at some issues right now and thinking over them.”

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SGB round-up: everything you need to know for 2017