Vote Counts • Michael Prochaska
High school’s Sophomore Congress is in session
Members of the legislative body entered the room with tactful poise, forming a line of well polished black-laced shoes, crisp ties and chic blouses. They began to greet their partisan members with respect and sincerity before taking a seat, equipped to defend their ideas with months of meticulous research.
Tax Reform. Abortion. Prostitution. Immigration. Landfill use in Morgan County. With little delay, the bills methodically made their way through a discerning and judicious system. First a formal introduction in the House or Senate, followed by committee consideration and amendment vetting before committee action. Then a civil debate following Robert’s Rules of Order, a House and Senate vote, and, if passed by the legislature, a final signature by the Georgia Governor. It’s a terribly complex process of checks and balances, hardball politics and impassioned deliberation.
Too bad they are all but two or three years shy of voting age.
Last week, Morgan County High School held its annual Sophomore Congress, a two-day simulation of the Georgia General Assembly, in which most sophomore students participate as state senators or house reps. Though some bills, such as one for the legalization and regulation of prostitution, may have been too politically polarizing for the real world, the actual legislative process was as authentic, if not more ideal, to what Representative Doug Holt has seen the past few months.
“We try to get it as close to real life as we can, but there are some things we cannot create,” said Amy Saylor, one of three advisors for Sophomore Congress. “They all ask if they can filibuster, and the answer is no.”
Students are not up on stage killing time but dissecting bills with careful scrutiny. Take for instance a bill to legalize prostitution in the state of Georgia. The bill, sponsored by Chandler Courchaine, goes far and beyond the idea of reaping the tax benefits of regulating the age-old practice. The bill calls for a prostitution license and a standard of health and safety requirements set by the Georgia Department of Health and Human Services. Moreover, a license would require a background check, a health inspection and a revocation process if an untreatable STD is discovered. Amendments with barefaced good intentions, such as a requirement for licensed prostitutes with a treatable STD to notify their last few customers of a possible contraction, were struck down on privacy values as well as complications on tracking down clients who seek discretion.
The contentious legislation was met with opposition on moral grounds, yet some students like Courchaine maintained that “the government is not in charge of instilling morals.” Melvin Davis said that though religion should not play a part in government, the majority of people in the US are religious in some way or form.
On sympathizing with the religious and moral opponents, Youth Governor and MCHS Junior Demarius Brinkley said legalizing prostitution may ironically deter women from entering the profession. “This is an opportunity to reach out to those women, and some may come to a realization while going through the process and classes that were included in the bill, that prostitution is something that they do not want to do,” he said.
Another senate bill on legalizing gay marriage went all the way to Brinkley before he decided not to sign it.
“I used the support of personal belief and religion,” he said. “Most religions consider gay marriage a sin…The gay lifestyle is not something to be encouraged. I do support peace and tranquility, but a lot of research shows that most homosexual people are not happy.”
Brinkley also said that legalizing gay marriage would taint the sanctity of marriage and could allow non-gay men to apply for a marriage license solely to receive tax benefits.
Another conservative, Dillon Riedlinger, called on the House to pass a bill that would increase security of the Mexican-American border. “A lot of people are saying that people want to come here to start over,” Riedlinger said. “That’s great; I’m all for that. I’m all for them wanting to have a job, wanting to have a life, wanting to start over and come to the land of opportunity. However, there are plenty of ways to do this legally.”
Riedlinger said that many immigrants who cross illegally get separated from family members and often are forced to cross through drug dealers. While some students agreed with Riedlinger, others took a more liberal stance on the issue.
In fact, prior to the dates of legislative action, students took a political spectrum quiz to see whether they lean more left or right of center. Like many legislative bodies, one House was majority republican while the other was majority democrat.
“It helps them see different points of view, which I think of as a skill and not an attitude,” said advisor Jennifer Eberhart. “I like to see students become comfortable when hearing themselves speak in situations like this and in a setting like this…I love to see them develop that sense of confidence and comfort.”
Saylor, who founded Sophomore Congress nine years ago, said her favorite part is opening morning when the gavel drops and 240 sophomores give the speaker their undivided attention.
Advisor Jim Malanowski said he enjoys watching students develop a stance on a position and get so absorbed in their debate.
“I really feel like they start to 'find their voice' in the process of Sophomore Congress,” he said. “I'm also always impressed that they can have thoughtful, mature conversations about very sensitive issues.”
Printed in the April 12 2012 edition.