- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

RICHMOND — Fourth-graders at Woodley Hills Elementary School in Fairfax County, Va., will get firsthand legislative experience today by lobbying the General Assembly for a bill that would allow them to sell cookies and brownies at polling places on Election Day.

The students used to set up a bake sale near their school’s polling station to raise money for field trips. But this year, school officials are forbidding the bake sales because they violate the state’s election law, lawmakers, teachers and parents said.

So, the students, their parents and teachers turned to their local legislators, Sen. Linda T. “Toddy” Puller and Delegate Kristen J. Amundson, both Democrats, to change the law that requires the children to stay at least 40 feet from the polls.

They have sent letters, some written in crayon, begging the lawmakers to let them hold their bake sales. Today, the young lobbyists plan to travel to the state Capitol and bring out the big guns — their homemade cookies.

All involved agree the process has been a crash course in politics for the students.

“This is an opportunity for them to actually see the lawmaking process in action,” said teacher Michelle Langenderfer, who began the year’s classes with lessons on the House of Burgesses’ first meeting in 1619.

“It ties in with our curriculum, but it also gives them the idea that even a little thing can make a difference,” she said. “Our General Assembly is the oldest lawmaking body in the world, and the students have been able to see who represents them.”

Miss Langenderfer, who has led the students in the letter-writing campaign, will be bringing 10 fourth-graders to Richmond today to lobby the House Privileges and Elections Committee, whose members will decide the fate of the school’s bake sales.

The students usually raise a few hundred dollars from the bake sales, money that helps offset the costs of field trips for poor children. This year, they were planning to raise enough money to pay for a $35-per-child field trip to Jamestown. They also hold fund-raisers for club activities and sports uniforms, teachers said.

Election Day is a scheduled day off for students, so those who participate in the bake sales don’t miss any class time. Supporters of changing the law said it’s not as if the fourth-graders hand out political fliers along with their treats.

Before this year, the law had not been enforced at Woodley Hills, teachers and parents said. If the law is changed, it would apply to all polls statewide.

Mrs. Puller and Miss Amundson each submitted a bill that would allow a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that does not issue any political endorsement to sell refreshments within the 40-foot restriction, as long as they have permission from the person who is in charge of the polling place.

The House Privileges and Elections Committee killed Miss Amundson’s bill by a 12-9 vote.

Delegates Johnny S. Joannou, Portsmouth Democrat, and Clarence E. “Bud” Phillips, Dickenson County Democrat, said they voted against Miss Amundson’s bill because they think the law must be strictly enforced.

“They need to stay out of the area so they have no influence on voters,” Mr. Joannou said.

Miss Amundson disagreed. “I just want my fourth-graders to be able to sell cookies. This bill came right from the children,” she said. “It’s not as if they are going to be selling donkey or elephant cookies.”

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican who was not present when Miss Amundson’s bill was considered, said yesterday he would support Mrs. Puller’s bill. “If they want to sell stuff, I don’t care,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Puller’s bill, which the Senate passed unanimously, is headed to the same committee that killed Miss Amundson’s bill. The committee is expected to consider Mrs. Puller’s bill during its 8:30 a.m. meeting today. If the committee keeps the bill alive, it will be considered on the House floor.

Parents said their children are learning a valuable lesson by taking part in the lobbying efforts.

“This is the year they learn about how laws are made, the Constitution and how government works,” said Jennifer Pollard, mother of fourth-grader Madison and a PTA member who has joined in the writing campaign. “It fits in with what they are learning.”

Mrs. Pollard said parents don’t want the children to stand 40 feet from the polling place.

“Elections are usually held in November, and it can be very cold and windy, or rainy or snowy. We wouldn’t want a bunch of fourth-graders sitting outside in that weather,” Mrs. Pollard said. “The [existing] law is a genuine obstacle to our kids.”

Miss Langenderfer said bake sales also provide math lessons, teaching students how to calculate the cost of a box of brownies and how much money they can earn selling it.

Miss Amundson said she hopes the homemade goodies will persuade lawmakers to change the law. “I feel like the committee is being the Grinch,” she said.

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