In mock legislature, discourse, differences of opinions respected; bills range from fun to thought-provoking

Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2015
New Hampshire might be better off if Pluto were still a planet and people weren’t allowed to use pennies.

Weighty issues, for sure, and ones a group of 300 high school students are taking up this weekend as part of a two-day mock legislature at the State House.

House Speaker Stephen Buttolph was a few minutes from presiding over his first session, but before he did, a reporter asked about another high-profile bill that would close schools the day after the Super Bowl.

The bill’s prospects looked bright, he said.

“I do love football,” said Buttolph, a Plymouth High School senior.

With that, the YMCA Youth and Government mock legislature’s first House session kicked off. While they’d adopt bills in symbolic fashion only, the students from across New Hampshire got an experience that mirrored a real day in the Legislature. In some cases, very real.

“We talked about casinos half the time we were in committee,” said Hishi Pradham, a high school senior and chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “I think there were like five amendments.” The committee recommended passage of a bill to allow state-owned casinos, but tabled one that would legalize gambling and drop the gambling age.

For students, the mock legislature is a chance to set and vet policy. This gives them a better understanding of the freedoms laid out in the Bill of Rights and state and federal constitutions. With every mock bill – even the Super Bowl one – comes an opportunity to express their opinions freely. In other words, students have their peers’ respect whether they want to recognize Pluto as a planet or not.

“It’s been great for everyone,” Buttolph said.

Bills drafted by students ranged from silly to thought-provoking, but Buttolph said his colleagues had looked closely at equality. He cited a bill that states schools “shall not be allowed to discriminate against any student on the basis of the student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“There are definitely a lot of bills that deal with gender and transgender equality issues,” Buttolph said.

A bill from Littleton High School would require school cancellations if temperatures and wind chill combined reach minus 30 degrees, while another from a Timberlane student would replace “Under God” with “Under the Constitution” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

In many cases, the bills reflected the biggest issues in the real Legislature.

Students at Kearsarge High School submitted separate bills to add $30 million to the state’s mental health budget and to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50.

Other students suggested repealing the Common Core education standards and called for more liberal marijuana laws.

“I think there are definitely some parallels,” said Jacob Wood, a senior from White Mountains Regional High School who was elected governor of the mock legislature.

As governor, he was able to push through a bill to get veterans a second identification card for use at non-Veterans Affairs medical facilities.

There were two bills he’d look at vetoing, he said.

The first would drop the legal drinking age to 18, as long as someone is with two people older than 18. People between the ages of 16 and 18 also would be allowed to consume alcohol if they were with an adult older than 21.

“Unless there are a lot of amendments, I don’t think I’d sign it into law,” Wood said.

The second would make July Caucasian History month to celebrate the contributions of influential Caucasian men and women.

“I don’t think that sends the right message,” he said.

The group adjourned yesterday afternoon and will reconvene this morning with a big question looming.

“We haven’t touched Super Bowl Monday yet,” said Jared Cape, a sophomore from White Mountains who is chairman of the House Education Committee.

For his part, Wood said he’d have to balance the educational aspects with, well, his football fandom.

“I’m a huge New York Giants fan,” he said. “I know Sunday nights are football nights.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter@iainwilsoncm.)