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ASUNM combats conflicts of interest during senate meeting

Over $40,000 approved for 10 student organizations

The Associated Students at the University of New Mexico senate passed measures to combat conflicts of interest this Wednesday, Sept. 29. They also approved over $43,000 of appropriations for student organizations.

Student organizations may present an extraordinary funding request, known as an appropriation, to the senate finance committee, which makes cuts as deemed appropriate. The request then moves to the senate and, if passed, to the ASUNM president. Bills 4F and 6F passed unanimously while 5F passed 18 in favor and 1 against, with 19 senators present at the meeting.

Bill 5F forbids ASUNM officers from presenting appropriations for any non-ASUNM student organization; ASUNM officers are defined in Bill 4F as “any student holding a position in an ASUNM government organization and all elected or appointed students serving in the ASUNM government.”

“It cuts back on the appearance of conflicts of interest were it to arise,” Mikenzie Chessman, senator and steering and rules chair, said. “And I think this senate is definitely trying to be very equitable and ethical in the way that we are distributing funds.”

Chessman, a co-author of all three bills, expressed interest in expanding this rule to the budget process as well, which is similar to the appropriations process.

Bill 6F compels ASUNM senators to “report all affiliations with non-ASUNM government student organizations at UNM to the vice president and president pro tempore,” according to the text of the bill.

Enforcement of the rule will be up to the vice president and the president pro tempore, according to Chessman.

The senate also approved a total of $43,426 toward different appropriations spread across 10 student organizations.

The largest appropriation — $13,469 — went to the UNM men’s rugby team. The senate unanimously approved the appropriation, which the finance committee had cut down from the original $39,633 request.

The senate broke standing rules to approve $1,000 for Engineers Without Borders, up from the $750 appropriation cap for new student organizations. Although Engineers Without Borders has existed on campus before, it is considered a new student organization since it did not charter the previous year. The finance committee had recommended $750.

“The reason we’ve cut larger appropriations like World Affairs Delegation, Esports, men’s rugby is so that we can have more money to allocate for smaller and newer student orgs,” senator Christian Pereira said, who voted in favor of increasing the Engineers Without Borders appropriation past the $750 cap.

Senators debated the Engineers Without Borders funding increase for nearly 45 minutes, referencing the group’s history on campus and humanitarian mission, the need to treat all student organizations equitably, and the rule-breaking precedent that would be set.

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“That precedent is rooted in our perception of a group’s importance,” senator Kaelyn Moon said, who voted against the appropriation. “And I think that’s a very slippery slope once we start comparing a group’s importance and what they do and what they stand for on campus because every group on campus is important.” 

The appropriation passed with 13 in favor, 5 against, and 1 abstaining; president pro tempore Rafael Romero-Salas voted in favor of the increased appropriation although he initially opposed it.

“If it’s applied to one organization, going forward it has to be applied to other organizations,” Romero-Salas said. “We have appropriations next week for new student organizations. That same mindset, according to the precedent established tonight, that has to be accounted for.”

President Ian May told the Daily Lobo he has signed everything passed during the meeting. The ASUNM full senate meets again on Wednesday, Oct. 12; Full senate meetings are open to public comment.

Gabriel Saiz is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @gsaiz83.

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