As part of an ongoing effort to modernize election bylaws, a new ASUC Senate bill proposes the creation of a public defender role within the judicial council.
The duties of the public defender, which have historically been carried out by other officials, would include defending any person or organization requiring representation in front of the judicial council. The bill, SB 48, would establish the public defender’s position as a permanent role to be nominated by and report to the chief accountability officer. The public defender would then be confirmed by a two-thirds majority vote by the senate.
Senate Vice Chair Alek Klimek, who drafted the bill’s language, said some of the goals of creating such a position are to make the public defender role more independent and year-round instead of temporary, during election season. CalSERVE-Cooperative Movement Party Senator Austin Pritzkat also said the bill aims to increase the fairness of the election process.
“I have certain reservations around the public defender position in making sure they are qualified and motivated for the right reasons,” Pritzkat said. “But I think that it can certainly improve the elections process.”
Klimek said he believes the vast majority of bylaw violations occur during election season, but there can also be instances of infringement during the rest of the school year. If, for example, a club is accused of discriminating against students, it could be tried by the judicial council and could get its funding revoked, according to Klimek.
“The two main parties often have a person who is trained in ASUC rules, but a lot of candidates don’t,” Klimek said. “This is to make sure that people who don’t know the rules get representation.”
In the past, Klimek said, there has been an inherent conflict of interest because the ASUC’s solicitor general often played the role of public defender during election season but was held accountable to the attorney general during the rest of the year. Student Action Senator Bo Nguyen, chair of the standing committee on Constitutional and Procedural Review, also said the public defender’s role would be most important during election season.
“We decided that we wanted to isolate this responsibility, which is why we are initiating this,” Nguyen said.
Klimek also said this reform is part of a “big modernization process” that the ASUC is undergoing to find out “what can be done better.” This bill, along with SB 49, which focuses on modernizing the ASUC’s governing documents, was discussed at the senate committee on Constitutional and Procedural Review on Monday evening, pending approval by the senate.
“I’m hoping we can send a bill forward that will improve the elections process and move us closer toward our goal of revising the bylaws,” Pritzkat said.
The senate will vote on SB 48 and SB 49 in their entirety Wednesday.