UNC’s Undergraduate Senate will soon vote on a bill that could make a seat on the senate a paid position.
The bill proposes that a lump sum of $8,000 be set aside to distribute between the 27 senators who will hold seats next term. A senator's one-time payment would be determined based on the percentage of meetings they attended.
In order to qualify, senators must attend at least 75 percent of meetings, with the maximum potential stipend being $300. Any senator who misses more than 25 percent of each semester's meetings does not qualify for the stipend.
The bill would also provide $100 to the Speaker Pro Tempore and $75 to committee chairs each month in place of the up to $300 stipend.
The sponsor of the bill, Rules and Judiciary Committee Chairperson Tanner Henson, said he proposed the bill to bring fairness to student government, since members of the other branches already receive stipends.
“The idea was to create at least equability between the different branches and make senate more attainable to everyday people here at Carolina,” Henson said. “It’s a pretty large time commitment, and I think some people who may want to run for Senate don’t feel able because they have to work jobs and such.”
Stephen Wright, speaker of the Undergraduate Senate, said the bill was set to be voted on Tuesday, but the meeting was canceled due to a lack of quorum. Many members of the public were in attendance and were able to voice their concerns for paying senators, he said.
Senator Noē Brown said she felt people are swayed away from running for senate due to the long meetings and extra responsibilities.
“I support the proposal because it really drives interest in senate,” Brown said. “Recently we haven’t had a huge voter turnout or had enough senators running.”
But she said having the stipend could entice people not only to run for senate, but do a better job once elected.
“When we become senators, we allocate a lot of time and what we do is push for instrumental change on campus and to fight for everyone’s perspective,” Brown said. “We could make faster changes if more senators were involved and keeping up to date with their responsibilities. And because they’re not, I think this is more of an incentive to do your job better.”
Brown did say that the bill needs revisions since having the stipend only encourages meeting attendance and not necessarily action.
Wright, who already receives a $200 monthly stipend, said extending stipends to other members would drastically change the culture and practices of the senate.
“I believe it is wrong to attempt to incentivize participation and attendance by monetary means, especially when the commitment of senators on a weekly basis at present is two to three hours on a Tuesday night,” Wright said in an email. “This is first and foremost a volunteer-based organization meant to serve students, and we should be striving to improve our connection with and representation of them so that they want to participate in elections and potentially run for office.”
Henson said the funding for the stipends would come from the already existing legislative general fund.
“I have also written a bill that does away with all stipends,” Henson said. “I’m a pretty forceful advocate for using money only for students, but that was treated very hostilely by the executive branch and judicial officers that receive stipends. At that point, if they’re unwilling to entertain giving all students money back to them, it doesn’t really make sense to me that we’re only going to punish one branch, per se, and not value their time.”
He said the attendance requirement will be more effective and a better investment for students because other student government stipends have no requirements attached.
But even if the bill isn't passed, Henson said, he thinks its introduction could create positive change in student government.
“To be clear, my intent is not necessarily to pass this bill,” Henson said. “It’s to create a conversation about stipends in general and about how the system we have now is not equable to the legislative branch. It seems unfair to me, as somebody who served in the legislature for three years, that our time is basically being undervalued.”
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