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Live lesson in democracy: Students' raptor bill fails

By CASSIDY SWANSON
Union Leader Correspondent

March 19. 2015 8:40PM
A student-written bill to have the red-tailed hawk, above, named as the state's official raptor was voted down in the House last week.. (UNION LEADER FILE)

HAMPTON FALLS – A group of fourth-grade students from Lincoln Akerman School got a lesson in democracy last week – and it wasn’t sugarcoated. A state representative who helped kill the bill, however, said conducting a mock House session at schools could be a learning experience.

Eight students from teacher Jim Cutting’s class presented a bill, House Bill 373, on the House floor last week to have the red-tailed hawk named as the state’s official raptor. Cutting said this was the culmination of study units both on state symbols and about how laws are made.

The students’ bill failed – and they faced some harsh commentary, as shown in the video of the floor debate below.



Rep. Warren Groen, R-Rochester, said about the red-tailed hawk: “It grasps (its prey) with its talons then uses its razor-sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird, is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.”

Cutting said he told his students to be prepared for the bill not to pass, but said they were disappointed.

However, the exercise was not a waste, he said.

“They had success because they learned a lot and got to see the process of government happening live, as opposed to something going on in a classroom,” Cutting said.

The students’ parents, Cutting said, were upset by the “sarcasm” in some of the representative’s statements, and were especially upset by Groen’s remark about Planned Parenthood.

“Parents shouldn’t be put in the situation where they need to answer those kinds of questions (from their children),” he said. “If the bill’s not going to pass for reasons the legislators believe are valid and are credible, then that’s fine…I think the issue was around the tone, some of the comments, and it disturbed people enough that I guess they felt like they needed to let others know how they felt.”

Cutting said eight of his 15 students have been crafting the bill since September, often forgoing recess to work on the project.

He also said he hoped the representatives would remember that they are role models.

“I would ask them to think about the position that they have and the power that they hold, and perhaps in the future, think about how that can be used as positively as it can be,” Cutting said.

Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, who helped lead the opposition to the bill with Rep. Christy Bartlett, D-Concord, said on Thursday that the bill was killed with bipartisan support.

He and Bartlett thought the bill would pass because of the children’s presence and were both surprised when it failed, Burt said.

“It really is a waste of time,” Burt said of the bill and others like it. He also said he had offered his services as a state representative to conduct mock House sessions at elementary schools in the state.

“That’s where it should be done,” he said. “They shouldn’t get the children’s hopes all up, because only 20 percent of bills go to the governor’s desk.”

Burt said his intentions and those of the other representatives who voted down the bill “wasn’t to beat up fourth graders.”

“What would happen if every fourth-grade class said, ‘We want to put a bill in?’ It would shut the government down,” he said.

Groen said on Thursday that he has been receiving voice mails from people “intimately acquainted with the F word” and “lots of nasty emails.” He said he regretted if he upset any students.

“You never want to see children like that, in that respect,” Groen said. “I addressed the merits of the bill to the children, and I addressed this comment to the adults,” referring to the Planned Parenthood remark.

Groen said he had noticed a “selective outrage” about his comments.

“The interesting thing is that Planned Parenthood is already in the elementary schools,” he said, adding that 57 million fetuses have been aborted at clinics run by the nonprofit organization.

“Where’s the outrage about that?” he said.

cswanson@newstote.com


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