The Senate's in session
For the day, that is, for local high school students The Senate's in session BY KAREN SHUEY, Staff Writer
Being a lawmaker isn't as easy as it looks -- just ask Kate Blest.
The Lancaster Mennonite School senior learned that the hard way Friday when she was peppered with questions from her peers about whether her bill to privatize the state lottery was worthy of their vote.
"It was more challenging than I thought. You're really under fire, and it's hard to absorb the points everyone was trying to make," she said.
Blest, along with 60 other students representing Lancaster County high schools, gained that unique perspective by participating in state Sen. Mike Brubaker's "Senator for a Day" event.
The students were schooled in the highs and lows of the legislative process, having been charged with the task of developing proposals, debating the merits of the bills and voting on the measures.
"I want them to come away with a real experience, to recreate what it's like to be an elected official," the Warwick-area lawmaker said.
The event gave the senator an opportunity to hand over the reins and watch as the students took turns sitting in the hot seat.
In the morning, the young senators discussed bill proposals in smaller committees. By the afternoon, the final language was set and the group had reconvened for its voting session.
The bills covered a wide range of issues that have been debated by the Legislature -- from school vouchers to pension reform to term limits.
During the afternoon, the Senate met in full session to debate and vote on legislation drafted by the various committees. Each committee chairman presented the bills for debate and a final vote.
Brubaker served as Senate president, carefully conducting the proceedings with the same procedure students would see at the State Capitol.
"Learning the process of how a bill becomes a law was very enlightening," said Gabriel Caceres, a Conestoga Valley High School senior.
Alex Aharonian, a senior at Garden Spot High School, said it was nothing like what he'd expected.
"It's a little frustrating to see the deadlock you can get into," he said. "It's hard to come together with so many different viewpoints out there."
Despite the debate -- which got especially lively when the lottery issue came to the floor -- the senators were able to accomplish quite a bit. The students passed five bills and voted down two.
A strong majority supported extracurricular fees at public schools, setting up defined-contribution retirement plans for new state employees, privatizing the state lottery, dissolving the state-owned liquor stores and limiting fast food in public schools.
A bill providing school vouchers for low-income students was narrowly defeated and a proposal for term limits got only a few votes.
"It was more difficult to pass laws than you would expect," said Nicole Allen, a Conestoga Valley High School junior.
But getting laws passed is just one aspect of the job, Brubaker reminded students.
"Providing government oversight and constituent service are also very important," the Republican said.
Brubaker told the crowd that representing Lancaster voters can be difficult at times, but very rewarding.
"This is probably the most challenging job I've ever had, and I've had a lot of different jobs over the course of my life," he said to laughs from the audience.