BOSTON. The golden dome of the Massachusetts State House has witnessed many a late-night debate over momentous legislation ranging from rights of workers to massive public works projects. It has also been the scene of many an afternoon session featuring chocolate chip cookies which, under General Laws chapter 2, section 42, are the official cookie of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
“Getting kids involved in the legislative process is a fun way to teach them about their civic responsibilites,” says fourth-grade teacher Lynn Nichols of the Tony Conigliaro Middle School in Swampscott, Mass. “It’s also a good excuse for a field trip in the spring, when we can barely keep their fannies in the seats.”
But as demands on legislators’ time increase, state senators and representatives have had to curtail schoolkids’ easy access to the legislative process and their time.
“There’s only so much I can do for you kid,” Rep. Martin Flores of East Boston is saying to Jimmy Racunas, who has come to the State House with his fifth grade class from Our Lady of Perpetual Airplane Noise in East Boston to petition for black-and-white bi-color cats–also known as “Tuxedo cats”–to be named the official cat of the Commonwealth. “The tabbies got there first, and as soon as they hear about it, they’ll be all over me like a cheap suit, which I’m already wearing one,” he says.
The kids begin to learn the ropes after a while, says Senate Clerk Ronald Giachetti. “First thing you gotta know, is you never go direct to the legislator, you go to his lobbyist. The lobbyist sets up a ‘time’,” a cocktail party fund-raiser, “and you buy a bunch of tickets.”
That presents a problem for both teachers, who usually only have subway fare in their budget for the trip to the State House, and for the students, who are not old enough to drink. “If Senator di Presti could promise me action on my Frisbee as official aero-dynamically supported amusement device of the Commonwealth, maybe I could see it,” says Lloyd Knox, a sixth-grader from working-class Chelsea. “At $150 a pop for a watered-down Coke, I think I’ll pass.”
As a result, it is kids from the wealthier suburbs who command legislators’ attention and are most successful in seeing their bills become law. “I really like my mom’s new Range Rover,” says Amy Gerstner of affluent Wellesley. “I think it should be the state’s official SUV!”