Students from Calvary Christian School in Boise are disappointed that lawmakers didn't give their bill to name a state amphibian a committee hearing, but said they learned from the experience of pushing legislation and that they will work to get the legislation passed in the 2011 legislative session.
The bill pushed by the students would have officially declared the Idaho Giant Salamander as the state amphibian. The salamander is native to Idaho and the only animal that has “Idaho” in its name. It typically is found only in central Idaho and a small corner of Montana and can reach a maximum of 12 inches in length. They usually inhabit cold, clear lakes, ponds, and streams and adults have been known to feed on small mice, shrews, or snakes.
The effort began when a former teacher at the school decided to give students an interesting and unique lesson in civics and government. The teacher, along with former students, worked to create a piece of legislation that would make it all the way through the Idaho Legislature. That teacher recently left the school to move to Washington, D.C., but the bill lived on with students.
If the bill had passed, a listing for a state amphibian would have joined the state flower (syringa), fruit (wild huckleberry), gem (star garnet), and even a state dance (square dance) on the list of state-recognized cultural symbols.
One of the two teachers still at the school who helped student push the bill, Sharon Matthews, said, via a wall posting on IdahoReporter.com, that the project of pushing the bill is helping the students to understand their role in society and government. Matthews added that she believes that students have both a responsibility and a right to learn how legislation is enacted.
Matthews also took time to argue against those who call the bill a waste of time, saying the “bill does not cost taxpayers anything, and cannot be considered frivolous.” She added that the “benefits of students engaging in government processes are priceless and should be encouraged.”
Students saw it similarly. Grace, a student in the class, said that she wanted the bill, which never received a hearing in State Affairs Committee in the House, to go farther "so we could've learned more about the how bills work."
Still, some are disappointed in how things ended up. "I'm disappointed because people thought it was useless," said Grace. "I think we wasted a lot of time," said Jenna.
Not all was a loss, however. When asked what they learned about the political process during the adventure, students responded with some truths about the workings of any legislature.
"I learned that you can’t just come up with anything and have it passed," said Emma. "A lot of people have to agree that it is good.”
"We could really make a difference with a lot of support," said Katie.
A few students even learned about the relevance and application of government during the process. "I learned that government is actually useful, even though sometimes we don't think it is," said Ellie.
So will the salamander bill be back next year? Students say yes. How will next year's efforts to pass the bill be different than those put forth by students this year, which included a visit to the Capitol building wearing pro-salamander shirts?
"We should probably get more support," said Emma.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rich Jarvis, R-Meridian, said that unless there is “widespread support” among school kids from across the state, the issue is likely dead. Though the quest to get the bill through the Legislature failed, Jarvis believes the effort wasn’t a total worthless.
I think the kids learned a lot,” said Jarvis. “It allowed kids to see what happens and become involved in government.”