Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a senator and make your own bill? Mr. Toby Harm's civics class conducts a bill writing simulation annually, where students have the chance to construct any bill they want and act as congressional members of the Senate. After the writing and research process, small groups go into standing committees where they present their bill to the ”public”. In the next step, students debate the bills before they are voted on for passage or failure. Even after passage by the Senate, a presidential signature is required by the teacher. If your bill doesn’t make the first cut, students have one more chance to go back and change the language or to completely destroy the bill and make a new one.
During the first few days of the simulation, our class researches possible topics. Topics such as mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients, no immigration for countries harboring terrorists, and cutting funding to planned parenthood, are just a few of the controversial topics the class tackles. In the bill, students have to state their key goal as well as state the definitions for key words throughout the document. Students specify what federal department will handle the responsibility the bill creates and the penalties that it will enforce. The groups have to say how their bill will be funded in order to continue the operation.
For the next step in the process, groups must stand and present their bill before the entire class and say why they chose their topic for the bill and why they support it. They must acknowledge the pros and cons of their bill and state why the pros outweigh the cons. At the end of the group's speech, students must answer questions people in the audience ask. Other groups can conduct research on other bills and try to help the bill pass of fail. Everyone in the group must know the content of the bill and the members must all be in agreement for everyone to receive a good grade.
If your bill doesn't receive a passing grade it does not mean that you fail the simulation. If your bill passes it will sit on the board where it will await the president, Mr. Harms, and his signature. But even though your bill gets passed, president Harms can still pocket veto your bill if it doesn’t agree with his personal beliefs. This activity allows students to learn about how bills are created and the process a bill goes through to get passed. This "hands-on" activity is exciting to see unfold in the classroom.
By Devon Abrams and Andrew Powell
Latest News >