OLYMPIA – Each year, students from Snohomish High School set their alarms for 4 a.m. and make themselves breakfast before the sun rises.
They pile into busses, coffee in hand. They arrive in Olympia by 8 a.m. and then their work begins.
Traveling in groups, the students traverse the capitol campus, meeting with a number of lawmakers throughout the day. They bring with them legislation that they have researched and then drafted in response to problems they see in the state.
Throughout the day, the students try to find sponsors for their bills and get feedback on what can be improved.
“This program works because the students work,” said Rep. John Lovick (D-Mill Creek). “They do their research and use this opportunity to educate all of us on important issues.”
The students are a part of a civics class that partakes in this field trip every year. The program was created about twenty years ago by teacher Charles “Tuck” Gionet, who challenged his students to think critically about the kind of state they wanted to live in and the change they wanted to make.
One of the most successful proposals came after a Snohomish High student, Courtney Amisson, was fatally injured in 2002 when a dislodged speaker box hit her while driving. Students in Mr. Gionet’s class wrote a proposal that would require such equipment to be properly secured and the bill was made into law.
House Bill 1246, also known as Courtney’s Law, was signed by Governor Gregoire in 2005.
Mr. Gionet died in August 2015 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Yet his program lives on.
This year, the students that come to the capitol are a part of Monica Weber’s class. She teaches all of the Government & Law and Government & Economic classes and recognizes the importance of continuing this on-hands experience.
“I cannot emphasize enough the value of this experience for the students,” Weber said. “I am very grateful to the senators, representatives, and legislative assistants who took the time to meet with the students, listened to their ideas and information and gave them valuable feedback.”
The students are responsible for scheduling their own day. This involves contacting legislators, figuring out where each office is and deciding in their own groups who is going to present different parts of the legislation.
“Being in a high school government class, it was great to learn more realistically about the political world by being placed directly in the middle of it, and for the most part, being treated as another professional,” said student Adam Ivelia.
Some of the bills address issues that are at the forefront of legislators’ minds, while others raise issues that are not as well known. Subjects include tax exemptions, education and public intoxication. With such a diverse array of well-researched topics, it’s clear that Mr. Gionet’s lessons and legacy will continue.
Legislation researched and written by students at Snohomish High School
The Washington State Inmate Opportunity Act of 2017 by Ashley Wickins and Robin Wright. Keeping in mind that in the US, 67 percent of convicted criminals will reoffend after being released, this bill proposes that funding is provided by the State of Washington for post-secondary education for inmates.
The students found that receiving college degrees while in prison can reduce recidivism over 40 percent and, while education programs cost on average $1,700 per inmate, the amount of money saved by reducing recidivism comes to $90,000 per inmate; money which can then be used for K-12 education funding.
The Caring Schools Act of 2017 by Hannah Williams and Kimberly Shepard, brings to the table a push to create a customizable program to counteract bullying in schools and ensure the safety of students.
The students behind this bill note that 76 percent of high school students have been a witness or a victim to bullying, but schools that take an active approach to bullying see a 60 percent reduction of it.
K-12 Education Funding Act of 2017 by Samuel Bentz, Faith Houser, and Victoria Wrenchey. This bill seeks to provide additional funding for K-12 education and help low income families afford school supplies and lunches.
The bill aims to achieve this by adding a 1 percent flat income tax to all incomes and a decrease of 3 percent from either the property or sales tax in the state.
The Reforming Tax Exemptions/Cut by Matthew Kendall and Jacob Norman. The bill would raise the corporate tax in Washington by 2.5 percent for businesses that make $25 million or more, and do not have a significant amount of debt.
Meeting the Needs of Dyslexia Affected Students by Hannah Devine. In preparing for this bill the students found that dyslexia is not considered a learning disability.
And, while screening does exist for it, the screening would recognize dyslexia as a learning disability and provide screening for it throughout K-12, not just K-3; the current window for screening.
The Professional Sports- Fund Educating Act of 2017 by Adam Ivelia and Garrett Lepoidevin. Washington is one of the states that doesn’t have a fee placed on professional athletes to play at their stadiums. As a result of this, professional sports teams from Washington are required to pay fees when traveling to other states, but Washington gains no revenue when other teams play here. This bill implements a fee on visiting teams.
The Aerospace Tax Incentive Accountability Act by Nicholas Spiker and Corbin Ditto, would call on the State of Washington to assess growth in high-wage employment, as defined by an annual or hourly wage equal or greater than the state median wage.
The Cosmetic Animal Testing Act of 2017 by Emily Greninger. This bill would require the State of Washington to regulate cosmetic testing on animals, as well as encourage alternative testing for cosmetic companies.
The Increases Tax Revenue Act of 2017 by Matt Doran, Jada Edelbrock, and Logan Bates. This bill would require the State of Washington to reduce the amount of tax breaks it gives to large corporations.
The Sleep Matters Act of 2017 by Boston Hunter and Taylor Dewing, would call for all public schools to start no earlier than 9:30 a.m. Drawing from research that states less than 9 hours of sleep can contribute to obesity, mood changes, and behavior issues, the bill seeks to improve the health of students through this change.
The Public Intoxication Act by Raymond Carlton, would raise the public intoxication statute in Washington State from a class 3 civil infraction to a class 2 civil infraction.
The Excise Tax on Motor Vehicles by Ian O’Hern would put a tax back on motor vehicles, rather than a single fee, in order to garner revenue and fund road repairs, while distributing such a cost more evenly. It would eventually render tolls unnecessary.
The Pillow Act by Annika Roberts, Jason Fairhurst and Issacx Everett, would require schools that teach 9th-12th grade to start after 8:30 A.M.
Using research that states that sleep deprived students are more likely to face depression and anxiety, and more likely to be involved in automobile accidents, this bill pushes for a later start for the benefit of the young adult.
The Income Tax Bill by Madison Siddell, Devon Thurston, and Blake Kuhlman. This bill would have the State of Washington enact an income tax to gain revenue, which could then be put into funding education.
Seat Belt Buckle Up Act of 2017 by Madison Van Eyk, Elena Bahr, and Zoey Moya. This bill would put seat belts on existing and new school buses to protect the riders and drivers from fatal and non-fatal injuries.