During the final formal senate of the academic year, the Associated Student Body failed to pass Senate Resolution 23-6, which proposed that ASB publicly condemn a new state law banning gender-affirming care for transgender people under the age of 18.
The vote was done by roll call on Tuesday, March 21, with the names of the senators kept off the record. Only the final vote count was made public.
Known as the Regulate Experimental Adolescent Procedures (REAP) Act, HB 1125 was approved by the Mississippi Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tate Reeves on Feb. 28.
ASB Sen. Caleb Ball, chair of inclusion and cross-cultural engagement, was one of the authors of SR 23-6. Ball said HB 1125 bill singles out transgender youth in Mississippi.
“This bill isn’t about protecting kids,” Ball said. “It’s about singling out, bullying and discriminating against the LGBTQIA+ community.”
A lengthy debate followed Ball’s introduction. Some senators expressed concerns that the bill was too political for ASB to address. ASB has taken stances on highly politicized bills before, including HB 2113, the controversial anti-critical race theory legislation.
“It just seems like a slippery slope, especially in such a charged political climate for us to either have to condemn or affirm an action that the governor or the state legislature passes,” Sen. Colton Jones said.
Other senators expressed their agreement on the content of HB 1125.
During the period of debate, Sen. Helen Phillips motioned for a private ballot so how the senators voted would not be recorded.
The ASB Code states the body can withhold the recording of a vote only if the results “may lead to targeting, threats, or injury” or “additional special circumstances outside the control of the Senate may require the vote be withheld from the record.”
In the first vote, the number of “abstain” votes outweighed the “yes” and “no” votes combined, causing the senators to go into a re-vote.
In the final vote, the resolution failed 13-15-1.
Out of the five executive office candidates present, four voted to have a private ballot: Kate Wall, Mason Greenwald, Lorne Turner and Helen Phillips. Ethan Robertson was the only executive office candidate to vote no.
When asked why they felt the need for a private ballot, Wall and Greenwald declined to comment. Turner and Phillips did not provide any comment before the time of publication.
Robertson, one of the authors of the resolution, said that many senators may have been afraid to speak during the debate since election season just started.
“Because this bill was ‘political’ people were scared to let their answer be known, especially with an election on the line,” Robertson said.
Robertson said he is still cordial with the senators that voted no to the resolution but is shocked at who voted yes to a private ballot.
“If the U.S. government voted on a bill and decided to not post the results of who was for or against it, we would not hear the end of it. But for our student government, it’s okay?” Robertson said. “We are senators for a reason. We represent our academic schools or registered student organizations. We are voted on by the people, yet we want to hide our vote from our constituents.”
Ball told The Daily Mississippian he was disappointed by the results as he represents the UM Pride Network and had to tell the members the resolution had failed.
“ASB wasn’t there for them when the queer community needed them. That was hard for me because I felt I let them down,” Ball said. “I think that members in ASB aren’t supportive of the trans community and I guess that’s why it failed. I can’t even tell you who voted against it. That’s the part that really upsets me.”
During senatorial comments at the end of senate, Ball stood up and expressed his disappointment with the off-the-record voting. Like Robertson, he emphasized that he wasn’t concerned on how the senators voted but that they were not transparent.
“If you don’t have the backbone to stand up and let everyone know how you voted, then I can’t respect that,” Ball said. “If you want the student body here to take us seriously, then we have to be transparent.”
Emily O’Reilly contributed reporting.