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November 16, 2009 9:25 pm

College Hosts Maryland Student Legislature

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During the general proceedings of the assembly, delegates of the Maryland Student Legislature deliberate over bills they had written and come to a vote based on majority rule. (Photo by Matt Molek)

During the general proceedings of the assembly, delegates of the Maryland Student Legislature deliberate over bills they had written and come to a vote based on majority rule. (Photo by Matt Molek)

The Maryland Student Legislature held its Fall Interim Assembly at St. Mary’s beginning Friday, Nov. 13 to allow students from across the state to simulate the legislative process in its fullest form, from writing legislation to debate and deliberation.

The growth of the College’s undergraduate delegation over the past few years was an incentive for the College to be chosen as the next assembly location.  While St. Mary’s facilitated a leadership training institute for this event in Sept. 1991, this event marked the first time St. Mary’s has sponsored the interim assembly.

“St. Mary’s has grown a lot, and is now a big delegation,” said Matthew Emery, a senior from McDaniel College and Speaker of the Assembly this year.  “We like to rotate around schools, and St. Mary’s is really getting involved.”
Leadership training institutes, or LTIs, are held before the interim assemblies to prepare students for participation.

During the interim assemblies, students apply these skills to argue for or against acts and resolutions proposed by the students themselves, allowing participants to learn how to write legislation and defend or oppose it effectively.

“It’s a great way to meet new people who have a variety of different opinions,” said junior Charles Onwuche, Jr., a delegate from St. Mary’s.

After an initial registration, committee leadership meeting, opening ceremonies, and a caucusing event, the assembly began its legislative process with committee hearings, in which proposed legislation related to that committee would be discussed and votes taken to determine which acts and resolutions would be presented to the general assembly.

After the initiation of the joint session of the general assembly, general assembly proceedings began, which mostly consisted of four-hour sessions of discussion and debate of the acts and resolutions proposed by each committee.  The sponsor of the act or resolution would discuss why the legislation was proposed, during which points of information could be addressed to the chair of the assembly and queries could be proposed to the speaker.

Because both supporters and objectors of the legislation were given set amounts of time to speak, strict formalities were observed. The formalities prohibited speaking out of turn and required delegates to rise, state the reason for suspending time, present the question to the speaker or the chair of the assembly, and continue with the proceedings.

“The assembly was kept in order pretty well,” said Onwuche.  “The students are enthusiastic and respectful of other delegates.”

After the time expired for supporters and objectors of the proposed act or resolution, and after any amendments were proposed or disputed before the expiration of that time, the legislation was brought to a vote in a closed session of the assembly.  While the doors were closed in the Glendening Annex, the delegates would discuss the bill and votes would be counted to determine if a majority was met in favor of the bill, in which case the legislation would pass.

“The debates are fun and vibrant, but serious when it comes to important issues,” said Dror Yuravlivker, a first-time delegate and graduate student from College Park.  “I didn’t know what to expect, but any expectation that I could have had has been met.”

The general assembly proceedings continued throughout the weekend, from Friday into Saturday and concluding on Sunday at 4:15 p.m. with closing ceremonies.

Saturday’s session included a keynote speech by Michael Cain, a professor of Political Science at and the Director of the Center for the Study of Democracy. Cain discussed with the delegates the state budget, and how changes in its regulations over the years have played a role in the current economic recession at the state level.

“[We need] to correct the spending formulas that drive spending,” Cain said.  While Congress has the power of the purse in handling allocation of funds, the State legislature can only modify areas of or take away funding, not increase spending.  “The [state] legislature needs greater authority to allocate funding,” he said.

St. Mary’s delegates discussed issues that included green energy investments, education policies and improvements, the pornographic film policy, and even promptness of professors in returning graded assignments to students.

The assembly included students from St. Mary’s College of Maryland; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of Maryland, College Park; Frostburg State University; McDaniel College; and Salisbury University.  After this assembly, the MSL’s next event, the Spring LTI and Interim Assembly, will be held at McDaniel College in March, followed by the 20th Annual Session in April at the State House in Annapolis.

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