DeKALB — Senators expressed their concerns at Sunday night’s Senate meeting in regard to an opinion Speaker of the Senate Tristan Martin wrote on House Bill 0217 without first consulting Senators or going through policy.
During the Speaker’s Report, Martin told Senators he was contacted over spring break by Illinois State Rep. Jeff Keicher. He said Keicher asked him to research and gauge a student opinion of House Bill 0217.
House Bill 0217, which failed to pass April 12 by the Illinois General Assembly, says a public university or community college may not inquire about or consider an applicant’s criminal history information at any time during the admission decision-making process.
Martin said he apologized for not bringing up the formal statement he sent to Keicher sooner and was not trying to hide this from the Senate at all
“I consulted a small group of NIU students and asked them for their opinions on the bill,” Martin said. “I decided to write a letter from the Office of the Speaker detailing what I believe to be the Senate’s opinion on HB 0217.”
Martin said within the group he consulted were five senators, and the general opinion was against the bill. Martin said whether the letter was flawed or not, the constitution states the Speaker of the Senate shall act as the Senate spokesperson in Section IV, Article IV of the SA constitution.
“I should’ve asked Keicher if there were any time restraints on submitting the letter,” Martin said. “Hindsight’s always 20/20, and I apologize for not asking that question. I didn’t mean to misrepresent the students of NIU.”
Historian Michael Kane said he wrote Martin an email April 12 expressing concern that the Senate was represented without any formal process, such as a resolution being passed within the Senate.
“One of my concerns is that this does not appear to be a time-sensitive process, considering there was not a vote on this bill until 48 hours ago,” Kane said. “Why was [the Senate] not sent a draft of the letter if you were not aware of the time sensitivity?”
Martin said it was wrong for him to assume the general opinion of the Senate, and his intention was to look out for the safety of the student body. He said looking back, he would’ve sent a draft, but he didn’t think about it.
Speaker-elect Ian Pearson said he was one of the students Martin consulted, but it was informal, and he was unaware a memo was being sent by Martin.
Senator Cassandra Pilcher asked Martin why he was addressing the issue now instead of doing so during the March 24 meeting.
“I guess I didn’t think to mention it,” Martin said. “I wrote the letter and kind of admittedly forgot about it for a little bit. It wasn’t until Monday when Keicher said that an opinion was written that I thought I should say something about it.”
President-elect Naomi Bolden said this bill could have a direct impact on the minority community. She said the current prison population consists of mostly African-Americans and Latinos.
“I would like to know why you thought that it wasn’t necessary to go further with contacting other people, specifically the minority population,” Bolden said. “This bill can directly affect the minority community, and NIU’s minority population is not that big.”
Martin said looking back, he would’ve asked students from the minority population, but he didn’t know the time sensitivity in which the letter should be sent to Keicher.
“I took it upon myself to gather the opinions that I could, and I went from there to write the letter,” Martin said.