Referendum rules under review

AMS policy will decide role of student representatives in vetting opt-out fees

A new AMS referendum policy is in the works, which could make gaining opt-out fees more difficult for student clubs.

The policy, which will be drafted over the next month, will decide whether AMS Assembly should scrutinize opt-out fees before approving them to be voted on by the student body.

The policy will be presented at the first Assembly meeting in January.

Although AMS Assembly currently votes to approve student fees for referendums, they aren’t charged with vetting fees.

Historically, that responsibility has been left to the office of the Vice-President (Operations).

“The question is should the AMS have zero involvement, or some involvement, and if so, what kind of involvement?” Nicola Plummer, vice-president (operations), said.

She said the policy is a response to “confusion” over the role of assembly during this year’s fall referendum and in last year’s referendums.

So far, Plummer, Comm ’13, noted, AMS Assembly has acted as a “rubber stamp” for opt-out fees.

“They’re just doing our job on top of us doing our job, which to me doesn’t make sense. Either Assembly has nothing to do with it, or Assembly plays some other kind of role,” she said.

When student clubs apply for fees, she said, her office, along with the Commission of Internal Affairs determines their eligibility, and then Assembly votes to approve club fees for the referendum ballot.

“What we’re attempting to do is clarify that step,” she said. “Are they looking at eligibility? Are they looking at merit? Are they looking at whether the fee should even exist for a club like that?”

An example of an issue that could merit an extra layer of vetting, according to Plummer, is a group which donates their entire fund to a charity.

“[As vice-president] I may see no problem with that, and I put it on the student ballot,” she said.

The student body may feel differently, Plummer said, but the average Queen’s student rarely has time to look through club budgets.

If Assembly is vetting fees, student representatives can take students’ opinions into account and vote accordingly, she said.

“Then again, students should be allowed to vote,” Plummer added. “It’s like the argument between direct democracy and representational democracy. What’s a better form of democracy?”

She stated that the AMS has no official position, and they’re waiting for feedback from student leaders.

Rya Marrelli, a co-editor of Ultraviolet Magazine, said fee vetting would put the AMS in a difficult position. Ultraviolet Magazine was on the ballot for this fall’s referendum, but failed to receive funding.

“Who are they to say what’s worthy and what’s not? Every club is doing something for at least one student at Queen’s and that makes it worthy for them,” Marrelli, ArtSci ’15, said.

Instead, she said, the AMS should educate more students, especially first-years, about opt-out fees so students don’t pay fees accidentally. Henry Barron, director of Queen’s Genetically Engineered Machine (QGEM) team, said putting responsibility on students requires a culture shift.

Queen’s Synthetic Biology club, an outreach branch of QGEM, received a student fee in the fall referendum.

Currently, he said, clubs rely on student laziness to receive funding, because students don’t tend to look up individual fees when they opt out.

“It’s more I’m going to opt out of all these fees … or you don’t know about opt-out fees and you don’t opt out and that’s how clubs get funding,” Barron said.

It’s good to have a screening process, he said, to prevent clubs from using funds poorly. “I don’t know if first of all the students will be looking at the budgets of clubs, and they probably won’t be looking up the clubs, unless they’re really interested,” Barron said.

“I know I didn’t.”

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