Students eventually become insiders
The first time I walked on the grounds of the Legislature was back in my sophomore year of high school when I was invited to the Governor's Mansion for an event. The capitol is beautiful but can be equally intimidating. The act of legislation being debated and passed within the walls of the Legislative building is personally astonishing. I’ve had that same mindset about the Legislature for the past couple of years. Being the age of 18, I still felt like an outsider until this week when I facilitated student visits to the capitol for legislative advocacy work.
Today being Day 45 of the 60 day session, I can honestly say the Legislature is home. This week was surprisingly eye opening. I didn't realize over the past few weeks I was becoming part this world. I occasionally get to speak with higher education committee members, but this week it felt like I was constantly seeing them and discussing bills we were hopeful of seeing go forward.
2SHB 1298, the ban the box bill on employment applications, had its public hearing in Senate Labor and Commerce on Monday. I brought in the Centralia College ASG President Morgan Lakey, a delegate for WACTCSA, to come testify pro as is pertains to the WACTCSA agenda. You couldn’t tell this was Morgan’s first time testifying because she was so articulate. Three days later, 2SHB 1298 passed its policy committee and was referred to Senate Ways and Means.
The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee was meeting at the same time as Labor and Commerce. I had a meeting with Rep. J.T. Wilcox concerning the Running Start reimbursement rate. Clarice Villanueva, a Running Start student at SPSCC, accompanied me as well as Arlen Harris, legislative director for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, in a robust discussion about the changes.
E3SHB 1488, a bill that expands the College Bound Scholarship and Opportunity Scholarship to undocumented students, was heard in the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 20. I testified in support for the State Board, Leslie Vazquez, a SPSCC student, testified on behalf of WACTSA. She shared her story as an undocumented student and how this bill could've changed her life if she was able to sign up for the College Bound Scholarship. HB 1488 passed out of its policy committee with a 6-1 vote on Feb. 22.
Tuesday, the Governor held the Career Connected Task Force press conference at South Puget Sound Community College. The co-op office that I work with on a daily basis invited me to attend, as the task force pertains to the work I’m doing. Brad Smith, the president of the Microsoft Corporation, and Perry England, the chair of the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board and a vice president at MacDonald Miller Facility Solutions, both gave wonderful speeches about the importance of young people getting exposure to their future career fields through apprenticeships and internships. I personally have greatly benefited from the opportunity to serve as the legislative intern for the State Board. I have learned so much by being on the ground as legislative actions takes place. It’s truly a process you need to be there to witness that you can't in the classroom.
The culmination of having students on the capitol campus this week made me realize that there is a place at the Legislature for me and my fellow students. Students, too, can be insiders to the work that goes on in Olympia. During the week I was assisting WACTCSA with student advocacy, I stepped into a new role. I was their resource and guide. In past weeks, that was what Arlen did for me, introducing me to legislators and supporting me in hearings.
The value of education comes when you’re able to put it into practice; when the subject matter becomes second nature. The past seven weeks has been a crash course in government, politics, and policy. I’ve learned by doing. I’ve worked hard, and now I’m able to share what I’ve learned with my peers. I know I have a lot more to learn, but I’m excited to see how far I’ve come, and I’m motivated to take on what comes next.