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Students of ENACT course lobby for Massachusetts bills

By Rachel Wang

Section: News

April 20, 2018

In a mock lobbying session, the students of LGLS 161b: Advocacy for Policy Change defended bills that are pending approval in the Massachusetts State Legislature. Students attempted to convince invited friends and guests to vote for their bills, which addressed issues such as immigration, criminal justice and health care, during the event on Wednesday in the Hassenfeld Conference Center.

In Advocacy for Policy Change, students study contemporary issues and the process of lawmaking. They are required to apply what they learn in the classroom to the outside world by going to the statehouse and working with legislators or advocacy organizations to push for legislative change.

The course is part of “ENACT”—the Educational Network for Active Civic Transformation—a national program that grew out of Advocacy for Policy Change and seeks to engage college students in state-level legislative action, according to its website.

To simulate a noisy courthouse for the lobbying session, the room was organized into four round tables with three student lobbyist pairs at each table. In three 20 minute rounds, one pair at each table presented their bill to their individual audience. Friends and guests, as mock policy makers, were encouraged to interrupt and challenge the students with critical questions.

Gerriana Cohen ’18 and Mia Dorris ’20 defended Bill H.2700, titled, “An Act to Increase Renewable Portfolio Standard,” which would make electricity suppliers responsible for increasing the percentage of energy they produce that comes from renewable sources. According to Cohen and Dorris, the Renewable Portfolio Standard regulation has been implemented in 29 other states. Massachusetts has 13 percent of energy coming from renewable sources, though that number is projected to rise to 25 percent by 2030. The Commonwealth still lags behind states like California which hopes to reach 50 percent by 2030 and Hawaii which is aiming for 100 percent by 2045.

Cohen and Dorris pushed the need to switch to more renewable energy by citing the damages of human-emitted greenhouse gases and environmental impacts on climate change. In response to questions about appealing to climate change deniers, Cohen and Dorris stated that, climate change aside, shifting reliance to renewable energy is still more economically and medically advantageous. They also addressed concerns about major job losses within nonrenewable energy companies by saying that 32,000 jobs in solar and wind would be available by 2030 to compensate any loss.

In light of the state’s obligation, under the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, Cohen and Dorris asserted that this bill was exactly the kind of infrastructure needed to meet that mandated goal.

Ellery Riccio ’19 and Samantha Greenberg ’18 presented on H.2172/S.1048, titled, “An Act to Establish a Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program.” Although the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is already in place on a federal level, Riccio and Greenberg say this new bill is necessary because it includes grandparents, cousins and same-sex couples within the definition of “family.” This bill also guarantees that an employee will return to the same job and receive the same pay after they take leave—a condition the FMLA does not include.

In response to questions about whether the broadened definition of “family” could lead to abusing that privilege and overextending benefits to non-family members, Riccio and Greenberg replied that no incidents of abuse have been noted in the five states that have already implemented this bill. They mentioned other benefits of the bill such as reduced infant mortality and increased company loyalty and productivity.

Kayla Kurland-Davis ’20 and Victoria Fils-Aime ’20 lobbied for S.2203, titled, “An Act Relative to Sexual Violence in Higher Education.” They specifically brought attention to how this bill could impact the Brandeis campus by raising more awareness and increasing utilization of the resources available in the event of sexual violence. Kurland-Davis and Fils-Aime questioned whether the blue light emergency phones located throughout campus are actually used and whether they are seen as a viable resource for students.

The pair affirmed that this new bill would demand transparency from universities by requiring them to make their reports and statistics regarding sexual violence on campus open to the public. The students also pointed to the inclusivity of the bill in recognizing that men, trans and nonbinary people can also be victims of sexual violence.

Other bills that students presented pertained to topics like safer drug consumption sites, automatically registering eligible voters, access to confidential healthcare and increased access to children’s mental health services in the community.

Amogha Rao ’18, a student in the class, said he was interested in this class because he is minoring in legal studies and wanted to better understand the Massachusetts legislative process.

As a student who aspires to be a lawyer and economic litigator, Rao believes this course, Advocacy for Policy Change, is valuable to Brandeis because it provides students with the opportunity to interact with real life legislators and policy makers. Rao does not think enough students at Brandeis know about this course offering and said that even students who do not study law could enjoy and benefit from taking it.

Professor Melissa Stimell (LGLS), the professor for this course, is the ENACT Academic Program Director. She agreed with Rao, saying she valued the experiential learning component of the class.

Stimell felt that this mock lobbying session really showcased all the experiential knowledge her class had learned. “The students did a superb job,” she said. “I’m so impressed by their understanding of the substantive issue and the actual legislative process.”

ENACT launched in 2015 through the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.

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