- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

RICHMOND — The House yesterday killed a bill that would have allowed children to hold bake sales at voting places — dashing the hopes of Fairfax County fourth-graders who had lobbied for the legislation with cookies and brownies.

In a 42-55 vote, the House rejected the bill because some delegates argued that it didn’t make sense to leave the children unsupervised, as the bill had required. Others said the children should stand 40 feet from the polls as the law requires, rain or shine, under a tent.

The Washington Times first reported last week that fourth-grade teacher Michelle Langenderfer and 14 of her students from Woodley Hills Elementary School traveled to Richmond on Friday to lobby a House committee, with brownies and cookies, to pass the bill so that the students could raise money for field trips.

Miss Langenderfer said yesterday the children were disappointed but were better for the experience.

“It was a good lesson for the kids,” she said. “We were trying to give them a greater understanding of how our government works. They learned many things from the experience and felt as if, through their letters and messages, their voices had been heard.”

Delegate Kristen J. Amundson, Fairfax Democrat, had asked her colleagues to allow the children to hold bake sales.

“There is very little threat to democracy from a group of fourth-graders selling sugar cookies at the polling place,” Miss Amundson said, defending the bill sponsored by Sen. Linda “Toddy” Puller, Fairfax Democrat.

The students have been holding the sales at voting places every Election Day, raising a few hundred dollars to offset the costs of field trips for poor children. Schools typically are closed that day, so none of the students miss class time by participating in the sales.

Mrs. Puller said last week officials ended the bake sales because they violate the state’s election law.

Now, with the bill failing, the students will be required to hold bake sales outside, “in the driveway near the Dumpsters,” Miss Langenderfer and Woodley Hills Principal Rima Vesilind wrote in an e-mail.

Delegate Thelma Drake, Norfolk Republican, said she worried that pollsters would become “baby sitters” because, under the bill, only children younger than 18 would hold the sales.

However, Miss Amundson argued that older students could supervise the younger ones.

The bill also drew criticism from the Fairfax County Council of PTAs, whose leaders argued that the bill excluded their group from holding bake sales on Election Day.

“The restriction on political groups meant anyone involved with advocating for education was frozen out,” said Christopher H. Schmitt, first vice president of the council. “It was just a very bad bill, bad for free speech and education advocacy.”

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