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The Kid 'Lobby' Proving Strong in Annapolis

Nina Rubin and her third-grade class
Teacher Nina Rubin (standing rear) and East Silver Spring Elementary third-graders (Photo by Gloria Son)
By Gloria Son
Maryland Newsline
Friday, Feb. 15, 2002

First a group of Maryland grade-schoolers successfully argued for a state dinosaur – the Astrodon johnstoni – in 1998.

Then some other tykes helped push through a state feline, the calico cat, in 2001.

Now some Silver Spring third-graders are asking Maryland legislators to turn walking into the state exercise.

They may not be old enough to vote -- or even watch a PG-13 movie unsupervised -- but kids are proving they’ve got enough clout to influence votes in Annapolis. 

Legislators admit they did not take the students’ ideas for new symbols seriously at first. But once they spoke to the children and saw their enthusiasm, they were hooked, they said.

“I’ll be honest with you. When I saw the [calico cat] proposal, I thought, ‘Oh, boy,’ ” said Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, of the letter he received from a group of Westernport Elementary School girls.

So he let the note sit in his files.

But as time passed and he started getting more letters from the five fifth graders, Kelly knew they were determined to see this through.

“Within three hours of the time that I filed that bill, I realized that it was something special,” he said. “Instantaneously, it became a point of interest with the press.”

He said he also learned how many serious animal lovers there are in the state.

“It was the most pleasurable, enjoyable experience,” Kelly added of his experience with the children.

Perhaps it’s because, unlike most professional lobbyists, the kids weren’t seeking monetary rewards. “They don’t get anything out of it except satisfaction, education and the knowledge that they can effectuate change,” said Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore.

Melissa Gersh, a third-grade teacher at East Silver Spring Elementary, is using the exercise bill efforts as part of a letter-writing curriculum for her class. 

Melissa Gersh and her third-grade class
Melissa Gersh reads a book to her third-grade students. (Photo by Gloria Son)

“The students learned that when you write a letter, you can make a difference,” she said. “We provided them with a real-life experience.”

Roughly 90 third-grade students wrote to Delegate William A. Bronrott, D-Montgomery, and Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery, asking them to sponsor the walking bill, teacher Nina Rubin said. Both responded, and Bronrott ended up sponsoring it, Rubin said.

Kelly, McFadden and Bronrott all said they were nervous about how their colleagues would react to legislation sparked by kids. All three said they have been teased or ridiculed for sponsoring “petty” bills.

But Kelly said he thinks the people who belittle the bills have an excessive sense of self-importance. “It’s a callous, insensitive slap across the face of the kids across the state,” he said.

And he said his sponsorship hasn’t taken him from other legislative duties. He said he worked on the calico cat bill during his free time.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said his initial reactions to the state symbol bills were “not positive, because we have so many very, very important issues to deal with.” However, he said, after considering the positive effect their passage would have on educating young people, he ended up supporting both the state dinosaur and the state feline bills. 

“I perceive these issues as a constituent service” that will benefit current and future students, Miller said.

But how much is all this good will costing taxpayers?

A spokeswoman at the state’s Department of Legislative Services’ policy analysis office said a preliminary study conducted about five years ago showed the cost of processing one bill runs a little more than $500 on average.

Practically speaking, creating state symbols may not directly affect Marylanders’ lives. But that’s not their point, legislators said.

It’s more about the students learning the legislative process.

“It’s great that young people understand early on that they can influence public opinion and public law,” McFadden said. “It’s also good for our democracy. The earliest someone learns the process, the more they’ll continue to participate in it in the future.”


Copyright © 2002 University of Maryland College of Journalism

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