63rd VA Model General Assembly Convenes at Capitol
The General Assembly adjourned in March, but last month another legislative body that has been meeting annually since 1948 gathered at the Virginia State Capitol. Only these legislators are all in high school. Craig Carper reports.
The Virginia Model General Assembly held their 63rd annual legislative session last month, with 550 students from all over the Commonwealth coming to participate.
Sharon Davies is Executive Director of the Virginia YMCA and has been supervising the program for four years. She says the program gives students a very unique perspective on the lawmaking process.
Davies: The biggest thing that we try and tell them is the government is not people out there, the government is you, you’re part of the government and whether or not you’re interested in a career in law or in government or in politics, it’s very important to be an engaged citizen. And so we’re hoping by being here and seeing what laws are all about and how they’re made and what goes into it that they’ll be a more informed citizen and be more active in their local government and their state government.
Among some of the bills the youth legislature passed this year was the legalization of marijuana possession, mandatory drug testing for those on welfare, privatizing our highway rest stops and approving civil unions.
Jared Miller is a senior at Radford High School and chairs the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. He discussed the talking points one of the bills that was ultimately defeated, lowering the drinking age to 18.
Miller: I think the big push for it is a lot of university presidents have come out and said they would support lowering the drinking age as a way to combat binge drinking of students on the weekends, in the hopes that lowering it and making it easily accessible, that tudents wouldn’t feel like they had to do it all at once. The big push against it is that we would lose massive funding for our highways. It’s a federal grant that if we set the drinking age at 21 we receive federal dollars but as soon as we lower it from that, we lose the federal funding. That’s why pretty much across the United States the drinking age is 21.
Delegate Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah began his involvement with the program in 1986, as a freshman in high school. Since being elected as a Delegate he has come back every year to help mentor kids in the program and serve as a procedural coach.
Gilbert: The arguments, the same friction points you see in the actual General Assembly exist here; you know, how to balance personal liberty against public safety, how to pay for things, taxation issues and the like, so it’s really interesting to watch. Sometimes I stir the pot. If I see that certain people have certain ideological views or philosophies. I may go over and give them a little tip; “Here’s something you might want to mention if you really feel that strongly about it.” And then I’ll go over to the other side and find somebody who’s opposed to that and say here’s something you might want to mention. And kind of get them pitted against each other and then it’s fun to just sit back and watch after that.
Davies says the students don’t just mirror state debate, sometimes they lead it.
Davies: Sometimes things that are defeated in the real House and Senate are passed here. If you look back at all of our track record, there’s a lot of things that the House and Senate passed now that we passed about ten years ago. So it’s kind of showing that some of these young people are a little progressive. The big one that always passes here is Governor’s term of office. I don’t know if they’ll ever change that but it’s always a hot topic.
Victoria Price is a junior from Spotswood High School in Massanutten and chairs the Senate Local Government committee.
Price: I’ve gained a lot of experience. My public speaking skills have improved. It’s a lot of fun and I know a lot about the legislative process now and I know that I have an interest to pursue something in the political field.
Students interested in signing up for next year’s program can go to vaymca.org and click on programs.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Capitol Square.