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Oregon State Sen. Bill Hansell (center) poses at his desk at the state Capitol in Salem with Eastern Oregon University students Brandon Cederholm of La Grande (left) and Chip Foss of West Linn (right) during a State Legislature 101 class in January 2019.

There are a handful of state senators who have a university in their Senate district, and I am pleased to be one of them. Eastern Oregon University is one of my top priorities. So, when Professor Jeff Dense approached me several years ago about bringing a class to Salem for a hands-on learning experience, I jumped at the chance.

We just completed what I believe to be the fifth EOU class to spend a day and a half in the Capitol. This year’s class, though smaller, was very engaged and interactive. I wish I would have had this kind of opportunity when I was in college, and I applaud the work of Professor Dense to make it happen.

Students came for “State Legislature 101,” and my office set up the schedule and meetings. They sat with senators at their desks on the Senate floor during a session and they observed the process of laws being made, up close and first hand. Sometimes it is like making sausage (not very appetizing) but usually not.

In addition, students met with Senate leaders of both parties, including a lively discussion with Senate President Peter Courtney. The class sat in on hearings and observed the Joint Ways and Means Committee working.

I spent time with the students, walking them through step by step how a bill begins, moves through the legislative process, and becomes law. I used a real example, which this year was the Roadkill Bill I sponsored in 2017. At every juncture we answered questions and encouraged interaction not only with me, but with all the legislators they met.

My office also scheduled time for the class to go to the House of Representatives side, where they spent time with Representative Greg Barreto. There are a few differences in the two chambers’ rules.

My legislative director, Evan Bryan, a EOU grad and former EOU student body president, was the organizer of this year’s EOU class visit. I am particularly pleased, because Evan was one of the first students to come to Salem for this class.

President Courtney referred to the Senate chamber during his presentation as a “classroom.” I couldn’t agree more. As lawmakers, we educate each other about our districts and values. The students saw how the process can work best when lawmakers understand how their positions on issues or votes will impact the entire state.

I look forward to continuing to host a class from Eastern. This is such a valuable learning opportunity and I have no doubt that these classes contain future leaders of our state. It is important that we work to educate the leaders of tomorrow and foster the importance of civic engagement.

I have long felt that apathy is unhealthy for a democracy. Citizen engagement is critical for the legislative process to succeed at all levels of government. By listening to one another and being open to differing views, we can build a stronger Oregon. I think this class saw how effective communication and a thoughtful approach can ultimately bring people together.

State Senator Bill Hansell (R-Athena) represents District 29 in the Oregon State Senate. The district includes La Grande, which is the home of Eastern Oregon University. Go Mountaineers!

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