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Wednesday, June 7, 2023
June 7, 2023

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Camden: Kids, dinosaurs and legislators


Legislative sessions rarely pass without the esteemed lawmakers being asked by a group of schoolchildren to pass a law they really care about.

Often, it is to name an official state something, like the multiyear effort to name the Suciasaurus the state dinosaur.

It’s a well-established lesson plan: find something the kids are passionate about, or at least interested in, then have them do some research to find out why it’s special enough to get that official state designation.

For example, the kids may all love bananas but they don’t grow in Washington and there’s already a state fruit.

Learn a bit about civics, or at least watch the “I’m Just a Bill” video and study a few differences between the state and federal process.

Contact a local legislator to speak to the class and ask for their help in turning this class exercise into an official state something. (No legislator with either brains or survival instincts can say “no” to a class of eager youngsters, knowing they would go home that night and tell their parents about the mean old person who ignored all their hard work.)

After the legislator introduces the official state something designation bill, bring a group of hard-to-say-no-to students to the Capitol for a hearing to urge committee members to vote for the bill. Legislators who normally grill state officials about how they are misspending money or messing up key programs will congratulate the students on their interest in government.

The hearing is guaranteed to generate news coverage, because reporters who normally write about boring things like budgets and infrastructure rarely pass up a chance to write about cute kids with fun ideas. They also know that their editors are tired of stories about budgets and infrastructure, and will put that proposed official state something on the front page.

Sometimes, the official special state something designation bill sails through the Legislature. More often, it gets through its first committee hearing and winds up far down on the list of bills the full chamber must handle before a key deadline, and doesn’t get a floor vote.

An official special state something designation bill often dies in its first attempt, which is also a good lesson for the students, because most bills die every session and even the best ideas take multiple tries. But the local legislator promises the kids to bring it back next year.

This is the loop the official state dinosaur bill found itself in for five years.

The Elmhurst Elementary School fourth-graders who first came to Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, with the idea of an official state dinosaur are in eighth grade now. Their idea got a House committee hearing and a House vote earlier this year, along with a Senate committee hearing on Friday.

The Suciasaurus – which often has the title of “rex” added to its name, although that Latin designation of kingliness among its contemporary therapods is yet to be proven — might seem like a good candidate for the official state dinosaur.

It’s unlikely to spark competition from fans of another dinosaur, because the 80-million-year-old chunk of leg bone is the only dinosaur fossil to be found in the state.

One can argue that Washington doesn’t need an official state dinosaur, or that it isn’t a Washington dinosaur, or even that there are more important things for the Legislature to pass. But one could also argue the former Elmhurst fourth-graders deserve credit for perseverance and that they’ll keep coming back until both chambers of the Legislature say yes.

If that happens it would be nice if the state superintendent of Public Instruction would send out a memo to all school districts, suggesting that Washington has plenty of officially designated special state somethings. It may be time to turn those hard-to-say-no-to students loose on things the Legislature could do that would affect them directly, like expanding the free school lunch program, guaranteeing a set amount of recess time or coming up with more money for nurses, counselors and librarians.