Student legislators hope to influence public policy

Representatives of 12 colleges meet at St. Mary's

Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009

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Staff photo by JESSE YEATMAN
St. Mary's College of Maryland professor Michael Cain, left, talks to Maryland Student Legislature delegates Chris Ingraham and Emily Gershon on Saturday at the group's fall session held on campus.

Students from 12 colleges and universities in the state convened over the weekend at St. Mary's College of Maryland to discuss upcoming legislative issues

The Maryland Student Legislature, a statewide collegiate organization, held its fall interim assembly at St. Mary's. The group's activities will culminate in a spring session, held at the State House in Annapolis, where they will vote on which of the bills they drafted should be sent to the local legislators with the student endorsement.

Chris Ingraham, a junior at St. Mary's College from Bethesda, was one of about 15 members on the college's legislative team. He said St. Mary's had the largest delegation from any of the colleges in Maryland.

The group wrote bills ahead of time and spent time debating them over the weekend. Up for consideration were 36 pieces of proposed legislation, ranging from the safety of Taser guns to discriminating against gender identity to a resolution encouraging the replacement of both the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge to Solomons and the Gov. Harry Nice Bridge over the Potomac with new toll bridges.

Other resolutions call for the change of Maryland's state sport from jousting to lacrosse, making crab cakes the official state food, and changing the Pledge of Allegiance back to its original wording that does not contain the words "under God."

Not all of the resolutions will be forwarded to the Maryland state legislature, but members can expect so see some on their desks in the future.

Over the past 21 years, five bills proposed by the group have become Maryland state law. That is encouraging, Ingraham said, letting students know that they can really influence public policy and law. "Our delegation is pretty new," said Emily Gershon, a sophomore at St. Mary's College. "I think it's a great opportunity for all of us."

St. Mary's professor Michael Cain was the keynote speaker Saturday afternoon. His remarks focused on the state's $2.3 billion deficit and the fundamental problems that led to it, including how the legislature has limited control to address the governor's proposed budget each year.

"That needs to be changed, I think," Cain said in an interview Saturday.

He also planned to talk about how Republicans could become more competitive in Maryland, which tends to have more than a blue hue each election cycle.

Cain said he was impressed with the caliber of many of the college representatives at the conference. He said the entire group is student organized and student led, and that it offers a good opportunity for young people to learn about the political process.