Cal Poly California Bill Class

Katcho Achadjian and Dr. Den Hartog Discuss the bill's progress
Photo: Katcho Achadjian and Dr. Den Hartog 
(Photo credit, Emily Merten 2017)

The Cal Poly Political Science Department has a Learn by Doing experience on the schedule in Fall 2017, and it’s caught the attention of many of our students. The course, the​ ​Cal​ ​Poly​ ​Bill​ ​Project​,​ ​gives students​​ ​the​ ​opportunity​ ​to draft​ ​a​ ​bill​ and work with state legislators to potentially​ ​pass​ ​the​ bill through the ​California​ ​state​ ​legislature.​ ​This quarter, students have been working​ ​with faculty​ ​advisor​ ​Dr.​ ​Den​ ​Hartog​ ​and​ ​former​ ​Assemblyman​ ​Katcho​ ​Achadjian​ ​to select​ ​an​ ​issue,​ ​and​ ​then​​ go through the process of​ ​drafting​ ​a​ ​bill​ to address this​ ​issue.​ ​

It is always exciting to pilot a new course, especially one with a hands-on, non-traditional format, because we never know how it is going to be received. Initially, we were hoping to spark the interest of perhaps a dozen students. We ended up with 22 students participating in the project during Fall 2017. Some of these students will continue their work with the project, even after their graduation in December. We could not be happier, and with the level of enthusiasm this initial group has shown, we feel that they are helping to pave the way for future classes of this style and caliber.

After​ ​much​ ​deliberation,​ ​this​ year’s​ ​students​ ​have​ ​chosen​ ​to​ ​address​ ​the​ ​affordability​ ​of college textbooks and materials.​ ​So​ ​far,​ ​students​ ​have​ ​had​ ​the​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​work​ ​with​ ​staff from​ ​the offices of Senator Bill​ ​Monning​ ​and​ Assemblyman ​Jordan​ ​Cunningham. This collaboration will​ assure​ ​their​ ​bill​ ​is​ ​drafted​ ​in​ ​an appropriate​ ​manner​ and ​give​ it​ ​the​ ​best​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​pass by understanding the processes as they function and the importance of politics and practical knowledge from the beginning.​ ​Students​ ​wrote bi-weekly​ ​memos​ ​to​ ​​track​ their contributions​ ​in creating ​the​ ​bill, and combined with assignments designed to develop research​ techniques,​ ​students are using critical thinking skills,​ ​and​ ​learning the importance of positive ​group​ ​dynamics as they work on the bill together.

Students in the course decided to form ​an​ ​executive committee​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to​ sustain ​the​ ​class​ ​momentum and keep students accountable to each other and the project.​ Under their direction,​ ​the​ ​group​ ​has​ ​divided​​ ​into​ ​three committees:​ a ​research​ ​committee,​ ​a communications/outreach​ ​committee,​ ​and​ ​a logistics​ ​committee. Each​ ​of these​ ​is​ ​chaired​ ​by​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​three​ ​executive​ ​committee​ ​members​ ​and​ tackles tasks​ ​ranging​ ​from​ ​general​ ​research​ ​surrounding​ ​the​ ​bill​ ​to​ ​connecting with​ ​potential​ ​supporters​ ​and​ ​other​ ​stakeholder groups​. The goal was to divide up the work so that we could make quick progress on drafting a bill, building persuasive cases, and developing relationships with potential supporters.

In its current form,​ the​ ​draft legislation​ is intended to​ ​address​ ​the​ ​rising​ ​costs​ ​of​ ​textbooks by​ requiring ​transparency​ ​regarding ​changes​ ​in​ ​new​ ​editions​ ​of​ ​textbooks.​ ​Moving​ into winter quarter, students​ ​will​ ​refine​ ​their​ ​bill​ ​and​ ​meet​ ​with​ ​legislators​ ​in​ ​an​ ​effort​ ​to​ ​secure enough​ ​votes​ to​ ​pass the legislation.​ ​The​ ​ultimate​ ​goal​ ​for​ ​these​ ​students​ ​is​ ​to​ ​see​ ​their​ ​bill actually​ signed into ​California​ ​law​​ ​by​ ​the​ ​Governor.

Photo: Katcho Achadjian, Dr. Den Hartog, Jacquelyn Hayes and students from the POLS CA Bill Class

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