Dressed to the nines, Hamburg Area High School students trickled into the LGI, shuffling papers in preparation for the annual Model Congress.
On June 3, every Hamburg junior participated in a simulation designed to replicate the process required to sign a bill into law. Select students played specific roles throughout the simulation, such as President, Speaker of the House and Democratic and Republican Party leaders.
President Cameron Madara sat tuxedoed alongside history teachers, Mrs. Mennig and Mr. Kline, in front of 148 students. Speaker of the House, Abigail Behm, stood at the podium, banging a gavel to silence students’ chatter.
In response to the absence of voices, Behm introduced the first bill to be considered for passing, titled Clean up of Oceans and Garbage Patches. Authors included Auradeva Nyer, Samantha Gingrich and Quinn Holl. The bill was designed to help clear the oceans of pollution by decreasing military spending.
Four speakers, either representing the Democratic or Republican Party, were selected to write a speech proclaiming their opinion on said bill and read it aloud to the other members of Congress. Emily Koinski, Auradeva Nyer, Andrew Jackoski, and Paiton Albrecht were the four speakers.
“The world we live in is more concerned with how we look than how the world looks,” declared Albrecht in her opening sentence. She continued by referencing statistics regarding the significant number of sea-life deaths every year. “This is not a hoax invented by the Chinese. This is real life.”
Following the speeches, students were allowed to comment on the bill. In order to do so, students had to raise their hand until Behm called on them to speak. Students were limited to 30 seconds to make a statement.
For the most part, there were very few discrepancies, aside of several students questioning the section of the bill that would ultimately ban the manufacturing and selling of plastic straws, primarily due to the fact that plastic straws are used for medical purposes.
After comments, an open-floor allowed students to discuss the bill amongst their peers for about eight minutes. A roll-call vote was used to determine whether or not the bill would pass. The votes were 140-8, passing the bill by a landslide.
“It was amazing to see the overwhelmingly positive response to Auradeva Nyer’s bill because it is a relevant issue… it represented that students care about the state and future of our planet,” said Madara.
The Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, authored by Madara, was the next bill to be debated. Speakers included Jocelyn Hess, Caleb Krause, Madelyn Nabozny, and Michael Maenza.
Maenza believed the legalization of recreational marijuana would “not be in the best interest of the nation” because marijuana is a “gateway drug,” ultimately providing “further stress on law enforcements” due to an increase in crimes such as human-trafficking and possession of heroin and cocaine.
Questions ranged from who will regulate the distribution of marijuana, government or private industries, to how individuals will be tested if found suspicious of being under the influence of marijuana while driving. In the end, votes were 75-70, failing to be considered for passing.
“I was surprised the bill was split and did not pass,” said Madara. Earlier in the school year, a bill was presented to legalize medicinal marijuana, which passed by a large majority.“My best estimation is that students recognize the benefits of medicinal marijuana, but don’t see a defined purpose of recreational use.”
Next, students debated a bill which would ban the use of affirmative action during college admission and job applications. President Madara created said bill.
“Forcing diversity is not the answer and it is not genuine,” said Justin Elkins.
“College admission should be based on merit, comparison and impact,” stated Ryan Govern. “We will be the ones enforcing modern racism [if affirmative action is not banned].”
Despite the outcome being 114-21, thus prohibiting the President from vetoing the bill, students developed passionate opinions in regards to banning affirmative action.
Nyer, for instance, voiced that “minorities do not have the same opportunities [as majorities].” In response to Nyer’s comment, Madara agreed to implement a future bill that would increase funding to schools comprised of primarily minority students.
Madara, while happy to see his bill passed, was rather surprised by the outcome. “I actually expected more opposition to that bill and didn’t expect it to pass as easily as it did. I was expecting a larger debate about white privilege and institutionalized racism to ensue.”
The final bill, which would transfer the power of gun-control laws from the government to the states, was deemed unconstitutional by a number of individuals due to the Second Amendment, which ensures citizens the right to bear arms. The bill would ultimately allow states to ban guns, entirely.
The votes were 18-115, indicating a clear opposition.
“I expected my bill not to pass, seeing as many people misunderstood what the bill stood for,” said principal author, Aiden Rhoads.
The signing ceremony soon followed after, where President Madara signed the Garbage and Ocean Cleanup bill and the Banning Affirmative Action bill into law.
Emily Koinski, who was an active participant throughout the simulation, noted that the activity “accurately represented a Congress,” even adding that Speaker of the House, Behm, did a “phenomenal job” in executing her role.
Kline, the history teacher responsible for organizing the Model Congress, provided several comments regarding the simulation.
“The kids talked about current events in a way they normally wouldn’t. I like when I go into the cafeteria and hear kids throwing out ideas and talking about the bills. It goes outside the classroom,” said Kline. “I think the kids did a great job, and I was very proud of their efforts.”
In terms of Kline’s reason for holding an annual Model Congress, he refers to the ways in which students will benefit from the simulation for years to come. “I think it’s a way to teach civic virtues. It’s a way to teach kids how the government functions and it helps to make them better citizens when they graduate and understand how the process works.”