Kids experience the art of legislating up close

UntitledUntitledSan Antonio Express-News

AUSTIN — Jacob Hale, 14, thought replacing Confederate Heroes Day with a broader remembrance of the Civil War was just common sense. But when he brought his idea to the Legislature, he found himself branded a “liberal communist” on social media.

“At first I was like, ‘That’s kind of strange that people would be against it. I thought this would be a no-brainer,’” said Hale, of Austin, a soon-to-be high school freshman who actually wrote the bill that Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, agreed to carry.

His bill died when it was left pending in the House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee, but he’s undaunted. He wants to try again in 2017.

“I kind of wish the committee would have done the right thing when they had the chance, but it wasn’t anything I wasn’t expecting,” Hale said.

Hale is one of a number of young people who have made their mark on the state Capitol, some by testifying for legislation. Hale is a bit unusual in that he developed the bill himself and brought it to Howard.

The student at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School said he brought his bill to Howard because he thought the holiday should be more inclusive to both sides of the war and the slaves.

Johnnie Holley, division commander of the Sons of the Confederacy of Texas, testified against the legislation because he said it attacks his heritage and organization.

“I think it’s very admirable that he did something like this if he truly felt like this,” Holley said in an interview. “But I’ll be perfectly honest: I felt like he was used as a publicity ploy.”

According to Hale, he researched the Civil War and the holiday, which fell on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year.

Howard said “he was very convincing” and that she likely would not have carried the bill if he hadn’t come to her with his research.

Despite almost a decade in the Legislature, Howard said she has never come across a student who brought his own bill to lawmakers like Hale did.

Although kids bringing forward legislation is uncommon, it’s not unheard of. In 2007, fourth-graders at Danbury Elementary School, in the Houston area, lobbied Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, to carry a measure that designated the blind salamander as the state’s official amphibian.

Then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the resolution, but a new group of fourth-graders came back the next session to make the Texas toad the state amphibian. Perry signed off on the measure.

“Oftentimes, it’s groups with legislation about some sort of state animal,” Howard said. “I think this was unique in what Jacob was pursuing, and the depth at which he was willing to go to convince legislators.”

Hale wasn’t the only boy who won lawmakers’ hearts this session.

Landon James Pemberton, 8, testified before House and Senate committees in May for a bill that would require peace officers to undergo canine encounter training.

Pemberton’s dog, Vinny, was shot by an officer outside their home three years ago. According to his mother, Valerie Bowling, her son was playing just several feet away from where the dog was shot.

Despite the bullet going through the dog’s neck, side and stomach, Vinny made a miraculous recovery. Pemberton said that didn’t stop him from wanting to prevent this from happening to other dogs.

The bill made its way through the process and was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Standing in front of lawmakers didn’t scare Pemberton. Now that he’s learned the daunting process of passing bills, he has even bigger dreams.

“I want to be president,” Pemberton said. “And I want to be an animal saver, too.”

ncobler@express-news.net

Twitter: @nicolecobler

 

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