I’m fighting for their public education - Legislative post by UEA Policy Ambassador Renee Pinkney
Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Renee Pinkney, teacher at Park City High School
“Thank you Mrs. Pinkney for bringing us.” This is a comment made by one of my Park City High School students as we were walking out of the Utah State Capitol and down the stairs to our bus. I had decided that Educator Day on the Hill was a perfect learning opportunity for my AP U.S. Government students. Twenty-one kids took me up on the offer and we had a great day.
Our day started at 9 a.m. on February 15 with a tour provided by Capitol Tours. Did you know the Capitol Preservation Board has grants to pay for your bus? We visited the Gold Room, the Supreme Court, the Utah House and Senate and the Governor’s office. We learned about the magnificent art, architecture and history of the palatial building we were standing in.
Park City educator Renee Pinkney (center),
pictured here with her students at the Utah
State Capitol, is a 2019 UEA Policy Ambassador
As we were heading down to the basement to see the seismic base isolators, that were installed with the restoration project that started in 2004, we were greeted by none other than our own UEA President Heidi Matthews and Chase Clyde our UEA Director of Government Relations and Political Action. Most of the students remembered Heidi Matthews as their Treasure Mountain Jr. High librarian. She explained her role as the president of UEA and how important it is to fight for public education.
Next students were off to the Senate office building to the State Room where EDOH participants get lunch. We grabbed drinks and snacks and headed to the tables near the rotunda we reserved as part of our tour.
I had been in communication all morning with Rep. Tim Quinn’s intern. Both of them met us at our tables. My students asked some really good questions and spent about 10 minutes talking to Rep. Quinn about current events and House bills they were tracking.
Before we left the lunch area, Chase spoke to my kids about lobbying, the dangers of incestuous amplification of the media and the importance of being thoughtful media consumers and going to college to get a degree. Mike Kelley our UEA Director of Communications and Public Relations took pictures of the students with Chase and I. We were celebrities!
What I found interesting is that both Chase and Rep. Quinn talked about the civility between the Utah legislators regardless of party and the positive process they engage in with constituents and lobbyists.
We had about 10 minutes before House floor proceedings began so at the suggestion of a House docent we went to the Visitors Center with Daniel, Rep. Quinn’s intern. My students asked about his experience, his motivation for being an intern and what his duties entailed. We all learned a lot.
Daniel lead us to the House Gallery just as floor proceedings were beginning, positioned us in seats ideal for pictures and to be recognized on the floor. I must admit it’s pretty exciting to have your name and the name of your school read on the floor with a request for you and your students to stand. We watched about 20 minutes of floor action and when I indicated it was time to go, a student said “already?” – a word that makes any teacher’s heart sing.
We went out into the foyer with Daniel and he responded to procedural questions my students had. One student noticed that a large number of representatives had voted ‘no’ on a bill but then changed their votes to ‘yes.’ This was confusing. Why would they do that? Daniel’s response “freshman hazing.” The representatives were joking around with the freshman representative that sponsored the bill.
I asked Daniel to explain ‘circling’ and ‘un-circling’ of a bill since we experienced both. If a member of the House proposes an amendment and it is not friendly to the sponsor, then the sponsor can have the bill circled which halts the amendment and any floor action until the sponsor or co-sponsors can consider the amendment. When the sponsor is ready for the bill to be un-circled they indicate that during floor proceedings.
We thanked Daniel and then met our Senate liaison, Sheryl, outside of the Senate Gallery. We were ushered into the Senate Gallery, although it was packed and we had to sit on all sides of the gallery. When my name and our school was called and we stood, we encircled the 29 Senators. We were able to watch about 15 minutes of senate floor action, which is more formal and each vote is a roll call vote which is different than the House where they use electronic voting. It was fun to see one of our own, Sen. Kathleen Riebe, on the floor representing Utah’s 8th Senate District.
Next stop was a meeting with both of our Utah senators in one of the senate caucus chambers. We sat at a huge boardroom table in large black leather chairs. We talked to our senators’ interns while we waited for senate floor action to end. Sen. Ronald Winterton arrived first and then Sen. Allen Christensen. They spent a good 20 minutes answering student questions based on the bills they were tracking in the senate. I learned a little more about Sen. Winterton and felt the opportunity was really important in establishing a positive interaction with him for future discussions I will have as a constituent, voter, teacher and UEA member.
Our senate liaison offered to take us to see the seismic base isolators which are amazing. That was the end of our day on Capitol Hill.
You may be wondering how this corresponds to Educator Day on the Hill? Every step in the process enabled me to make a new contact, establish a stronger network and meet new people who can help me navigate the process. As we moved through the Capitol, I saw teachers I recognized wearing “Red For Ed” and said ‘hi,’ stopping if I had time to talk for a minute. I felt our solidarity and unity of purpose and so did my students. They know I’m fighting for their public education.
I was able to connect my students to their elected officials, to give them the same opportunity I have to ask questions and understand the process…a real-world experience. As a UEA Policy Ambassador and U.S. Government teacher, this enriched EDOH added depth to my understanding. I’m hopeful I can be a resource for any teacher who wants to pay it forward and help their colleagues and students understand the legislative process and EDOH to a greater degree. Go, fight, win UEA!
About UEA Policy Ambassadors—
In 2019, seven teachers volunteered to become UEA Policy Ambassadors. These teachers received training from the UEA Legislative Team and have agreed to participate in UEA Educator Day on the Hill, engage with their legislators and share their experiences with UEA members.