by Siera Jones
The Commonwealth of Virginia has passed an historic bill granting students excused absences to participate in protests and lobbying events. This legislation in both the House of Representatives and the Senate is a result of bipartisan lobbying efforts by both the Virginia Young Democrats Teen Caucus and the Teenage Republican Federation of Virginia. While students in Fairfax County were exclusively granted one excused absence a year to protest in 2019, young people from both sides of the political spectrum fought for the extension of this right to the entire commonwealth. A social media message from the Teenage Republican Federation of Virginia to the Virginia Young Democrats Teen Caucus united Virginia’s young people in a bipartisan effort that sparked one of the most bipartisan bills of the year.
The team effort of the teen lobbyers caught the eye of Del. Sam Rasoul, who introduced the The House bill, titled HB1940. The bill passed 62-37 on Jan. 22.
“It got my attention that student Republicans and student Democrats were both willing to work with each other to draft the bill,” said Del. Rasoul. “We want people to work together like that, especially our students, and you don’t see that every day. Once I saw that, I wanted to know how I could help.”
Del. Rasoul stated that he hopes to see more legislative efforts by America’s youth in the future.
“I don’t want young people to think they have to wait 10 years, 20 years, to make a difference… I want today’s students to lead the movements that will change this country.”
The bill was introduced to the Senate by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who was first impressed by the initiative of the Virginia teens. The bill, titled SB1439 passed in the Senate 25-14 on Feb. 3.
“I am doubly heartened by this bill not only because it was the idea of both Democrats and Republicans, but also because it was advocated for by a generation that has been pretty skeptical about the government’s ability to address their needs or even hear their concerns,” said Sen. McClellan. “By passing this bill we can show young people in the Commonwealth that their voices matter and encourage them to make their voices heard.”
Sen. McClellan credited the teen organizations for prompting the bipartisan vote.
She explained, “This may be the most bipartisan bill the Senate will see all year. It demonstrates that civic engagement is critical for both sides of the political spectrum. By advocating for the bill together, the Virginia Young Democrats Teen Caucus and the Teenage Republican Federation of Virginia led by example.”
The passing of both HB1940 and SB1439 grants all students of the Commonwealth of Virginia one excused absence from school per year to protest or lobby for causes of their choice.
The Teenage Republican Federation of Virginia and the Virginia Young Democrats Teen Caucus were both greatly encouraged by their breakthrough in both the House and Senate.
The Teenage Republican Federation of Virginia, whose executive board includes Brady Hillis (Chairman), Ashton Willcox (Vice Chairman), Josh Lyon (Recording Secretary), and Alexander Campbell (Corresponding Secretary) made a statement regarding their success, saying “This legislation will greatly impact lives of every day teenagers across the Commonwealth and we are grateful to have advocated for it.”
The organization also shared their hopes to inspire others through their example.
“This is also a good lesson for the adults, to prove that bipartisanship is still alive,” they said. “If teenage republicans and democrats can come together for the betterment of teenagers across the commonwealth, then surely our elected officials can come together for the betterment of the American People.”
The Virginia Young Democrats Teen Caucus Chair Matthew Savage also provided a statement regarding the bill’s success, and the precedent they have set by achieving it.
“We hope this bill will further energize students to get involved in politics and civics by providing them a seat at the table when decisions regarding our future are made,” stated Savage. “It’s remarkable how teen Democrats and teen Republicans were able to work together on this bipartisan bill. Despite all the partisan bickering and violence that we’ve seen from adults in Washington and Richmond, teenagers are leading by example, once again.”