Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Puller Institute Policy Projects

         On Wednesday March 22,  the 2017 Puller Institute students presented their 36th District policy projects and received certificates commemorating their completion of the program.

           In 2016, I created the Puller Institute to honor my predecessor, State Senator Elizabeth “Toddy” Puller who served in the Virginia General Assembly for 24 years.  Senator Puller was an avid fighter for the citizens of Virginia and this program is dedicated to her years of hard work for the 36th District. Over a decade ago, my predecessor in the House of Delegates,  Delegate Kris Amundson created her Young Leader Program.  Her program was designed to introduce top high school students in the Mt. Vernon area to Virginia State Government process. The Puller Institute is modeled after that program.
            During this year's program, eight students from four different high schools traveled to
Richmond during the General Assembly Session to be immersed in the legislative process of Virginia.  They observed the legislative process and meet with legislators, policy-makers, advocacy groups, and others.  They also were fourtunate enough to meet with Governor Terry McAuliffe, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and Secretary of Education Dietra Trent.         
Additionally, the students were required to create a policy presentation on an issue affecting the 36th District. They covered a variety of  interesting topics:

                                 ***To see a specific student's presentation, please click on their name and you will be redirected to their project***
Mr. Ian Peverall, a junior at Mount Vernon High School, proposed legislation to prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Virginia's high school athletics. He notes that while there are laws and rules banning the use of such drugs, there are no testing requirements. His bill would require random testing of athletes suspected of use and require parental consent for potential testing be given prior to a student competing in high school athletics. Any student caught using the drugs would face a two-year ban from participating in high school sports. The aim of this bill is to deter use of such drugs by students because of their harmful effects on the user as well as the dangers that the users pose to others while taking them.

Mr. Jacob Raman, a senior at West Potomac High School, presented on challenge of making college more affordable in Virginia. He proposed that the state legislature should adopt several measures in order to attack the problem from multiple angles. His proposal included measures to make Virginia's Community Colleges free for a student's first year and incentivize businesses, through tax breaks, to assist their employees in paying off their student loans.  Additionally, it would require reforming the Virginia Education Loan Authority and additional funds be allocated by the General Assembly for higher education.  It would have the additional effects of increasing homeownership, retirement saving and entrepreneurship.

Mr. Malcom Johnson, a junior at Forrest Park High School, proposed reforming the process for
school transfers for children of active duty military members. His legislation would provide a transfer exemption for these children .  This would simplify the transfer process for these students and give them an exemption from certain rules of transfer including those surrounding the rescinding of transfers.  The goal of this legislation would be to provide stability for children of active duty military members and give them more school choice to facilitate a better learning environment.
Ms. Celia Lane (see her additional presentation notes here.), a junior at West Potomac High School, proposed legislation to deal with the problems caused by the aquatic plant, hydrilla in Virginia's waterways. She proposed declaring hydria a noxious weed, which would allow localities to adopt ordinances to deal with removing it and preventing it spread. Her bill also proposes cutting of sewage outflow into the Potomac river particularly from the City Of Alexandria, in order to limit the nitrogen and phosphorus in the river, which aids the growth of hydrilla.  The measures would both improve the ascetics of Virginia's waterways but also make them easier to use for recreation and more habitable for wildlife. 

Ms. Kiley Finnerin, a junior at Mountain View High School, presented on allowing more choice for students who move out of a school district.  She noted that changing school can put increased stress on a child and affect their academic performance.  She proposed allowing those children to remain at original school even if they move outside of the boundaries of that school's district.  This proposal would mitigate mental health issues in this population of children, improve educational outcomes, and allow more choice for families that relocate.

Ms. Mary Peterson, a senior at West Potomac High School, took on the challenge of funding support survices for Fairfax County Public Schools graduates with intellectual and developmental disabilties. Her legislation would require the inclusion of the funding of employment and day services for individuals who graduated from FCPS and have intellectual and developmental disabilities.  This  would allow these individuals to receive the care and services that they need in order to live their lives once they have left school. 

Ms. Amanda Ghiloni, a junior at West Potomac High School, proposed providing paid maternity leave to the residents of Virginia. She noted that that motherhood tends to force mothers out of the workforce or to take unpaid maternity leave causing them financial hardship.  She proposes providing new mothers 50- 70% of their weekly pay and utilizing methods that have been implemented in other states including the funding and administering of the program through payroll tax-funded disability programs.

Mr. Mark Weil, a senior at West Potomac High School, presented on solving the issue of the lower graduation rate among foster children. He proposes providing an extension of state funding to foster families with children who are on track to graduate, but will age out before doing so.  The funding would be contingent on the student attending a state-endorsed accelerated high school program.  It would have help to improve life outcomes and graduation rates, while decreasing crime rates among these foster students.

        I was very impressed with the hard work put into the projects presented by the 2017 Puller Institute Fellows. If their projects and time at the Capitol are any indication, these students are in store for very successful futures. the 2017 Puller Institute was very successful and I am looking forward to what these young students bring to the Commonwealth in the years to come.

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