Jodie Powell's Letter to the Editor on State Government Session
Front Row: Amanda Stanberry,
Devin Gabriel, Monica George, Melanie Johnston, Robin Parker,
Our Legislators at Work
On Thursday, May 19th, the 2011 Leadership Tangipahoa class had the opportunity to spend that day in Baton Rouge at our State Capitol watching our legislators at work. This was our last class of the year before our graduation next month. It was a very refreshing and affirming experience summarizing all of our classes this year. I think that as citizens we sometimes lose sight of the purpose of our elected officials and their duty to represent their constituents’ needs. It is very easy to become disenchanted with politics these days and to want to ignore or completely write off government in general from our thinking. This write-off may be due to a feeling that your opinion doesn’t matter and that they, our elected representatives and officials, are going to do whatever they want to do in their law and policy making in the interest of deal making or some political agenda anyway. What I learned from this experience is that this is not the case.
During our visit, we had the opportunity to sit in on both House and Senate Committee meetings. This was a great experience that is open to any citizen. On the House side we listened to the Education Committee discuss Virtual Schools for our Louisiana High School Students to aid them in furthering their education when classes are not offered in their respective schools or they do not have an instructor that can teach particular classes on staff. The committee also discussed Bill 183 being presented by Senator Apell, which is the moving of UNO out of the LSU system and into the University of Louisiana System. It was refreshing to see them discuss both sides of this issue and to watch them take testimony from both parties (for and against) as they worked together to answer questions through civil debate and the presentation of statistics and factual information to create a bill that was satisfactory for all involved. This process was the same on the Senate Committee side as well where we sat in on the Municipal Committee Meetings. The committees also accept questions and concerns on note cards, in addition to green in-favor and red opposed cards from the people in attendance. This is where your opinion matters. While we all cannot take time off of work to sit in committee meetings all day, by contacting your State Representative or Senator you can have a voice on any issue. They also post the proposed bills and amendments online for you to read and a schedule of when they will be addressed as well.
From the committee meetings we moved to the House of Representatives Session in progress upstairs. They were debating and amending House Bill 112 which deals with bullying in our schools as presented by State Representative Badon. As a parent of two school age children this was an interesting debate to watch. The gallery was full of everyday citizens both for and against the passage of this bill. I watched in awe as various representatives very passionately presented their opinions on this bill. Unfortunately, this bill did not pass, but I am sure it will resurface in a different form at some point in the near future.
While we study democracy, government, and its systems of checks and balances as school children, I think we soon forget that it is our God given right in this country to have a voice and to be represented by the people that we elect to make sure that our voices are heard. We are most fortunate to have these rights as compared to many other places in the world. I would like to thank all of our elected Representatives and Senators for the work that they do. In particular I would like to thank Representatives Steve Pugh and Jon Bel Edwards for the time that they spent with our class during this eye opening day. I am proud to have them representing us locally on the state level. They have a big job and are in my opinion doing it very well.
Representative Pugh joined us for a great lunch in the capitol dining area, during which he explained the process of getting a bill to the floor for a vote. He explained that as citizens, if we have a particular issue we would like to see addressed or made into a law, that we can contact our local representative, meet with them, and that they have staff that can help you to write your bill and put it in the proper format to bring it through committee and then hopefully to the floor to be voted on. You truly do have the opportunity to make a difference as an individual if you are passionate about a particular issue that you feel needs to be made into a law.
We ended our day with a tour of the Governor’s Mansion given by Mrs. Bobbie Johnson. The mansion is a beautiful place with an interesting history all told through its murals, portraits, china, and furnishings. The artwork at the mansion is on loan from many of our state artists and much of the artwork is done by children throughout the state. Many of the stories that Mrs. Johnson shared with us I had never heard before and enjoyed immensely.
To summarize this experience and that of being a participant of Leadership Tangipahoa, I can only say two words – amazing and inspiring. I have a new found faith in our system, our leaders, and the state and parish which we call home. I am proud to be from Tangipahoa parish and through this class my eyes have been opened to the wonderful opportunities that are afforded to us here. Our parish has so much to offer its residents, if you only take the time to seek its hidden treasures, learn about the inner-workings of our local and parish governments, see how fortunate we are to have the health, social, and eldercare programs that we have, talk to our teachers and educators about how much they love our children, and get to know and appreciate our criminal justice system. We are blessed to have so many people in our parish that go above and beyond their call of duty as citizens and in their job capacities to make our parish a great place to live, work, do business, and raise a family - Thank you.
While improvements can always be made to enhance our quality of life in Tangipahoa Parish, I have learned how to participate in those processes with integrity, optimism, empathy, vision, and selflessness. I am changed by having participated in this class and would encourage others in our community to participate in the Leadership Tangipahoa program. I would like to thank the Leadership Tangipahoa board, alumni, and our fearless instructor John Dardis for making this such a great experience. I would also like to thank my classmates for sharing their lives and experiences with me during our adventures throughout the year. I look forward to working with each of you in the future building a greater Tangipahoa for our children and residents, because I know we will accomplish great things!