University of Richmond Environmental Studies Students Help Lobby Bill Through Virginia General Assembly
February 24, 2003
Six University of Richmond students left their classroom this semester for the halls of the Virginia General Assembly and got an A+ for their efforts.
After a fall semester of research, the senior environmental studies students last month began lobbying delegates on behalf of a bill they proposed to create an invasive species council. This week, the students passed their exam with flying colors: House Bill 2436 passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.
The university's first environmental studies majors, the students were required to identify an environmental problem in the community and do something about it as part of their curriculum.
Last semester the students studied extensively invasive species that cost Virginians an estimated $1.4 billion to $3 billion annually. Next, they decided to develop a bill to coordinate the efforts of state agencies to control or prevent invasions by species such as Zebra mussels, snakehead fish, hydrilla, West Nile virus and numerous tree-killing pests, which are either already here or threatening to invade Virginia. Invasive species are not only costly, according to experts, but also harmful to the environment and human health.
Once they found a sponsor, Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax), they modeled the bill on similar legislation in Missouri. On Jan. 8, the bill took the first of 21 separate steps on its way to a 100-0 yes vote in the House and 40-0 yes vote in the Senate.
With Gov. Mark Warner's expected signature, the bill will establish a nine-member council to provide "state leadership regarding prevention and control of invasive species and preparation of an invasive species management plan." The council will be made up of executive branch agency heads and chaired by the secretary of natural resources. Because it utilizes existing state government resources and personnel, its cost is expected to be negligible.
The students began the semester by writing opinion pieces concerning the bill and got them published in papers across Virginia. Next, they lobbied members of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources, where the bill started. Then they talked with members of a similar committee in the Senate. They also spoke at the Virginia Conservation Network's Lobby Day at the Jefferson Hotel.
Finding the time to lobby and tend to their three or four other classes was one of the hardest things they had to do, said student Allyson Ladley of Leola, Pa. "We knew how important it was to spend the time down at the General Assembly building, but our real job is to be students. It was tough to find the right balance."
Ladley said she was extremely proud of the bill's passage and considered it "a huge accomplishment."
What did they learn about how bills get passed? "I quickly learned," Kyle Hegamyer of Frederick, Md., said, "that a lot has to do with politics and the stance a delegate's or senator's constituents take regarding the issue. However, on many occasions, we were able to speak with the legislators and explain to them the importance of the bill."