Cal Poly California Bill Class
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.