On the second-to-last day of the Nebraska Legislature, state senators, lobbyists and legislative staff focused on ending the 2018 legislative session on a productive note. And Superior High School students were right in the middle of it.
Seniors and juniors in Jordan Martin’s government classes took part in Capitol Experience Day, an intensive, daylong program tailored just for the Wildcats, on April 11. The day immersed them in the workings of the statehouse.
Hosted by Civic Nebraska through our Civic Health Program, the event allows students to think critically and partake in civil discourse in the place the state’s laws are debated and made. Students also interact with state officials and learn the ins and outs of Nebraska’s one-house, non-partisan government.
By the end of the day, students honed their community advocate skills. They also had a thorough understanding of the Legislature and the importance of their role as citizens – often called Nebraska state government’s “second house.”
“I like to share my perspective, and this (experience) has given me an understanding of how I can make sure my voice is heard,” senior Ethan Beale said.
Martin said Capitol Experience Day is timely in the course of his students’ civic education.
“This is a great way to teach students how accessible our state government can be,” the instructor said. “Most students come to the State Capitol in elementary school, which is great – but by the time they’re juniors and seniors, things are starting to click in terms of their engagement and understanding of government.”
Students learned about the unique history of the unicameral, then watched as senators approved bills in the Legislature’s waning hours. Then, they convened in a Capitol hearing room and conducted a “committee hearing” on a real-life constitutional amendment that had been proposed earlier in the legislative session.
During the mock hearing – which concerned LR293CA, a proposal to allow voters to weigh in on an amendment that would legalize medical marijuana – students deliberated the strengths and weaknesses of the amendment. Some role-played as senators; some offered supporting testimony; others spoke in opposition of the proposal. A handful of students even testified from a neutral standpoint.
In a private meeting with the class, State Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell discussed balancing the weighty duties of a state senator and his full-time job as a veterinarian and farmer. Kuehn, in his first term representing south-central Nebraska, will not run for re-election – something about which students asked their senator.
“It’s a choice everyone has to make,” Kuehn said. “For me, it was about where I am in life and my career, and how to make the best use of my time. I’m proud of our accomplishments, and I think it’s best to return to my family and my career full time.”
The students also received a drop-in visit from State Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard, a native of Superior.