- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2004

RICHMOND — The way to lawmakers’ hearts — and votes — is through their sweet tooth, a pack of little lobbyists discovered yesterday.

Bearing homemade cookies and brownies, fourth-graders from Woodley Hills Elementary School in Fairfax County persuaded General Assembly members to pass a bill that would let them hold bake sales at polling places.

“My judgment was sweetened by munching on these cookies,” said Delegate Robert G. Marshall, a Prince William County Republican who voted for the bill. He said the treats gave him extra energy to push the bill forward.

Delegate William H. Fralin, Roanoke County Republican, shoved an entire brownie in his mouth while the House Privileges and Elections Committee deliberated before its 13-7 vote for the bill.

It was a “Got Milk?” moment that didn’t escape the attention of the giggling fourth-graders. The same committee had rejected the legislation last month.

Before yesterday’s vote, the 14 schoolchildren had sat quietly, some yawning, through nearly two hours of committee business. They sprang into action with treats in hand when the chairman called their bill, sponsored by Sen. Linda “Toddy” Puller, Fairfax County Democrat.

The students went to each committee member to personally hand out the goodies, and the lawmakers were soon grinning and thanking the them for the treats and for the crayon-inscribed letters the students had sent during the week.

A bucket of brownies was passed on from lawmaker to lawmaker, and most of them started eating immediately.

Later, the students and their teacher, Michelle Langenderfer, reflected on the day’s lesson.

Fourth-grader Jonathan Guandique said he was fascinated the lawmakers say “Aye” instead of “Yes,” while Haylee Gongloff said she was surprised “everyone had a say in it.”

Daniel Schultz shyly said he was amazed at the lawmakers’ detailed explanations of their votes. “They explained their reasons for why they were doing it or why they were not doing it,” he said.

Miss Langenderfer told her students she realized that one person’s efforts matter.

“Your letters made a difference to some of those people,” she said, noting she plans a wrap-up lesson on the process for Monday. “It’s inspiring to me as a teacher.”

As first reported yesterday in The Washington Times, the students have held annual bake sales at polling places to raise a few hundred dollars to offset the costs of field trips for poor children. Under state law, no sales are allowed within 40 feet of a polling place.

The committee altered the bill, which had been rejected for three straight years, and then passed it along to the full House. It will come up for final decision next week.

The bill was changed so that only children can sell goodies, not adults. It also was amended to exclude fund-raisers by groups and their parent organizations that engage in partisan political activity, including the PTA.

“I don’t think this would have passed had you all not been here,” Delegate Kristen J. Amundson, Fairfax County Democrat, told the fourth-graders.

Delegate Melanie L. Rapp, York Republican, voted against the bill because she said anyone within 40 feet of the polls has the potential to influence votes.

“I love the bill as far as the heart of it, but the unintended consequences worry me,” she said.

But Delegate James H. Dillard II, Fairfax County Republican and a former teacher, said the bake sales have not caused problems.

“Nobody’s ever been harassed by a Girl Scout selling cookies or someone from the PTA selling brownies,” he said.

Delegate Mark L. Cole, Stafford County Republican, took a moment to criticize the school district, saying several of the notes he received were in Fairfax County public schools envelopes.

“It’s a totally inappropriate use of taxpayer funds,” he said.

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