By Mannix Porterfield
Hoping to make his foray into his wife’s third grade classroom a little entertaining as well as educational, Senate Majority Leader John Unger made each of her students a “senator” for a day to explain how bills become law.
Unger invited them to propose bills, opening the floor to a debate and eventual vote.
One student called for a longer recess.
“By this time, the principal ducks down, hoping that bill doesn’t pass,” Unger told his Senate colleagues in Wednesday’s launch of the 2013 session.
Another pupil called for legislation to provide an extra lunch, and Unger called for an explanation.
“I want to eat an extra lunch at school so when I go home, I won’t eat Mommy and Daddy’s food and my brother will have something to eat,” the youngster explained.
“And that just floored me,” Unger continued.
The senator wanted to know how many students were mired in the same situation. An overwhelming majority of the hands in his wife’s classroom shot upward.
Unger used this anecdote in leading the Senate to its first official act of the session — approving his resolution that creates a special select committee to study children in poverty.
“Now here is the wealthiest country in the world and this is happening with our children,” Unger, D-Berkeley, said in his floor remarks.
“How can we expect our children to learn and perform in the classroom if they’re thinking about what they’re going to be eating that evening, or what’s going to happen to them when they go home. I hope this select committee can take up these issues.”
Five members are chairs of major Senate committees, and at some time or another, all have examined children in poverty “but not in a holistic point of view,” the majority leader said.
“This is not to look at more government programs necessarily but to look at how committees can be empowered in order to focus on the child,” he said.
There are some who look disparagingly on the poor, dismissing their plight as the product of indolence or making bad choices, Unger said.
“That may or may not be the case in each individual situation,” he said.
“But one thing that cannot be argued is that children have done nothing to make any decision to put themselves in that condition. Nor can they do anything really to help get themselves out of it.”
Focusing on the child helps his family and eventually this will raise the standard of living for the community, he said.
In another floor resolution, offered by Health and Human Resources Chairman Ron Stollings, D-Boone, the Senate recognized West Virginia nurses.
Stollings, a physician, said the Institute of Medicine acknowledges nurses as the key to solving the nation’s rising cost of chronic illnesses.
“The American public has voted to acknowledge nurses as the most trusted professionals for 12 years,” Stollings said.
“Obviously, they are a huge, key role. We certainly in health care could not do without them. We’re facing nursing shortages.”
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