RHA votes to expand judicial oversight of budget, elections

Chief Justice Alex Johar: “It is technically taking power away from the legislative branch, but it was power that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

The Residence Halls Association will now be able to withhold funds from hall governments if they do not comply with the organization’s bylaws because of a bill passed last Monday.

The branch proposed one bill to expand its own powers of oversight of the association and another to constrain the legislature’s authority. Both passed and went into effect that night.

Associate justice Garren Wagner presented the first piece of legislation, which allows semesterly audits of RHA’s budget and gives the branch authority to impound hall funds if the hall governments do not follow the organization’s bylaws.

The bill, called the Expansion of Justice Act, passed through the Operations Committee and was voted unanimously into effect by hall representatives.

Chief Justice Alex Johar said the new law will give the judicial branch power to enforce the bylaws that did not exist previously. Before, hall representatives who did not comply with the bylaws could not submit funding requests or present legislation to congress.

“It is the duty of the judicial branch to enforce [the bylaws], but there was no mechanism to enforce them,” Johar said.

Now, all hall funds will be frozen until halls resume compliance with the bylaws. With the passage of the bill, if a hall, for instance, fails to update its constitution for a semester, the hall will not have access to their funds until they update it.

“This just gives the judicial branch — and RHA — the ability to enforce the constitution and bylaws that need to be followed,” Johar said.

The second major feature of the bill will allow the judicial branch to conduct audits of RHA’s semesterly budgets. Though he said no past incident spurred the bill’s introduction, Johar said the oversight will ensure that all funds are going where they need to go after they’re allocated.

“We noticed that in the past there hasn’t been a lot of oversight over the budget,” he said.”We felt that it is better to be preventative rather than reactive.”

Johar said the justices will be working with the finance coordinator to do the audits and will determine what the process will look like later in the semester.

The second item the judicial branch presented congress called to repeal the emergency powers amendment, which gave the legislature special override privileges during election times.

The amendment was established during last spring’s presidential election after Kyle Roberts, RHA’s current communications director, dropped from the election and left only one slate — President Matt Bourke and Vice President Martha Pangborn — running. The legislature moved to amend the constitution to allow a single candidate — Roberts’ running mate Emily Aiken, who now serves as the speaker of congress.

Though the amendment has not been used since last spring, Johar said the way in which it passed was questionable and threatened the integrity of the rest of the constitution.

“When it was passed, we had the feeling that the correct processes of it getting added to the constitution weren’t followed,” he said. “We also felt that it infringed on the core separation of powers of the three branches, since elections are the primary capacity of the judicial branch. So we felt removing that was necessary to make sure the branches were all separate and so that we could do our job.”

Though all but three representatives voted for the amendment, Rollins representative Clayton Powell spoke extensively against the motion, citing that it would result in the legislative branch losing power. Powell was one of the three representatives to vote against the removal of the amendment.

“This amendment should have stayed [because it] gave more power to the legislative branch,” he said. “I do think that is really significant. I think we do need to have power in the legislative branch more so than in the judicial and executive, where there is already plenty of power.”

Johar said the removal of congressional power in these situations is justified.

“It is technically taking power away from the legislative branch, but it was power that shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” he said.

Edited by Emily Gallion | egallion@themaneater.com

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