Students get chance to play legislators

Apr. 05, 2014 @ 12:33 PM

Eating while driving. Mental health evaluations for children with divorced parents. Raising the dropout age to 18. Setting an age requirement to purchase pornographic literature such as “50 Shades of Grey.” Jamie Lewis’ Speech and Debate class of Hibriten High School wrote and debated bills on these topics and more at the annual North Carolina Youth Legislative Assembly.

Several students traveled to Raleigh March 21-23 to work in committees, discussing and debating several bills. Students who served as co-chairs wrote their own bills and presented them to committees of delegates, said student Isaac Tuttle, who won a Jimmy Gibbs Awards for his contributions to his committee.

The delegate students worked to make each bill presentable in order that the entire group of 210 students as the assembly would pass the bill. For at least an hour and a half, students debated using different cards to present their point of view of either pro or con or to ask a question about the bill. While voting, students were locked into the room until the verdict was announced. Lewis said the process “mirrored what happens in the General Assembly.”

“Most of the bills were very controversial. They were something we’ve all thought about,” student Morgan Bush said.

Eight out of 10 bills were passed. A proposal for substance-abuse testing on all high school athletes lost by two votes. A bill to forbid teenage drivers from eating while driving also did not pass.

Bush said, “Some of your own opinions changed on the bills because of the debate.”

“It’s one of the biggest learning experiences I’ve ever had,” said student Dylan Laws. “It helped set in stone my going into politics.”

When they were not working on the bills, the students enjoyed several banquets, game night and a semi-formal dance. They also attended lectures by guest speakers Bill Daughtridge, secretary of the N.C. Department of Administration, and state Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly. The students agreed that Burr’s speech was motivational. Lewis said it focused on how “you’re never too young to be involved in politics.”

Lewis said that Hibriten was the only school from Caldwell County to take part, and many of the other schools there were from the eastern side of North Carolina.

“We felt good about representing the western part of the state,” Lewis said.

Lewis hopes that next year’s Speech and Debate class will be able to attend the assembly. Every student who is not a senior has a spot already reserved for them for next year.

“They get the most out of it if they can go multiple years. They can run for different positions [like co-chair],” Lewis said.