Learning About Laws With Special Visitor


Sunday, October 10, 2004, By DENISE FAVRO SCHWARTZ dschwartz@repub.com

GREENFIELD – It was a politician’s dream audience and a chance for an entire classroom of fifth- and sixth-graders to learn how to make the rules their class will live by from a person who helps make Massachusetts law.

At Greenfield Center School students decide on the rules for their classroom each year. State Rep. Christopher J. Donelan, D-Greenfield, was recently invited by teacher Jane Stephenson to help her students learn not only how to create class rules, but learn about the legislative process at the same time.

A full circle of students sat on the floor of their classroom, eagerly awaiting Donelan’s arrival. They had studied legislative procedure and were fully prepared.


“There are a lot of ideas out there, some good, some bad. Is it a good idea for them to become laws? Probably not. Our founding fathers made it take a long time for a bill to become a law on purpose.” – State Rep. Christopher Donelan

Donelan launched into an explanation of the legislative process with the savvy of a gung-ho teacher, weaving into his talk examples that the students related to with smiles and laughter.As their state representative slid onto a chair and faced the group, Stephenson reviewed how the morning’s program would be conducted: Donelan would explain how a bill becomes a law, she said, then questions about that process would be answered. After that, “bills” that students wrote would be submitted to the “legislature” of classroom students and the process Donelan had described would be followed to move the bill into law.


State Rep. Christopher Donelan recently visited Greenfield Center School – Photos: Donna Elwell, Greenfield Center School

“If I had a good idea for a law that made every student in Massachusetts go to school every day until 5 o’clock and through the month of July, this is what I would do,” he said, outlining the steps from writing the bill, going to committee, debating on the floor, repeating the process in the Senate, and going to the governor to veto or sign. Every young face was on the representative.

“There are a lot of ideas out there,” Donelan said, “some good, some bad. Is it a good idea for them all to become laws? Probably not. Our founding fathers made it take a long time for a bill to become a law on purpose.”

What is the weirdest law you passed?” a student asked.

“The state cookie law,” Donelan answered. “It’s chocolate chip.”

A thoughtful boy asked a question that made Donelan and the teacher smile: “In a way, do you have more power than the governor?”

“I would say, ‘No,'” Donelan answered. “The system is set up so we are co-equal. We make sure no one person becomes more important than the laws we have.”

Donelan suggested that he take a look at the bills the students had prepared. These would be voted on to become class rules. From an inch-thick stack he pulled out a paper.

“Ah,” he said. “The Bill of Musical Rights.” Donelan read the bill that asked for the right to listen to music during quiet time in class.

“Who wants to be on this committee?” he asked. “Who wrote this bill?”

In the end, by majority vote, the committee moved the Musical Rights bill to the full House of Representatives.

“Now we are all House Reps,” Donelan said, as excitement rose in the room. After thoughtful debate, Donelan called for a vote. Another majority vote moved the bill to the Senate. Students cheered, seeing the possibility of listening to music during quiet time becoming closer to reality. “You have taken the first step towards making a law,” said Donelan.

Standing and sounding official, teacher Stephenson made an announcement. “As Governor,” she said, smiling, “I can tell you that I will most likely veto this law!”

Copyright 2004 MassLive.com

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