KAYSVILLE — At Windridge Elementary School, every third-grader was a senator on Tuesday.
With Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, to guide them, 80 students learned the finer points of the legislative process.
"Who wants to be a legislator? Anybody?" Adams asked.
"Today, you're all going to be a legislator. How about that? It's going to be fun."
Before convening the day's work, members elected a president to preside over their senate.
Kyler Jones topped a field of five candidates. Adams handed him a small gavel and prompted the newly elected leader through the mechanics of passing a bill.
The students passionately debated two bills: one to allow students to eat candy at school any time and another to place swings on the school playground.
One third-grade senator called the candy bill "a bad idea" because it would lead to "candy wrappers all over the floor."
Speaking for the bill, another senator argued being able to eat candy at school would stave off hunger during the academic day.
Eventually, Adams taught the students how to end debate by saying, when recognized by the Senate president, “I move the previous question,” he said.
With that, the bill went down to defeat.
Debate on the second bill took things to the next level. The original proposal was to place swings on the school playground.
One senator gave this enthusiastic endorsement: "I think it's a great idea. We could have more fun."
Other argued that kids would have to take turns to use the swings, which could lead to disputes.
After a number of students raised concerns that students could be injured on swings, one senator introduced an amendment to place safety belts on the swings to prevent students from slipping out of them.
The amendment raised other concerns. Kids could slip and become tangled in the belts and choke. Or the belts might cut into their bellies as they swung.
"Kids could get killed," one senator cautioned.
The amendment was eventually defeated but the bill passed, but not by a large enough margin to render it veto proof.
When bills pass the Utah Legislature, they go to Gov. Gary Herbert who decides whether to sign them into law, let them become law without his signature or veto them.
Adams told the students that the Utah Legislature passed 574 bills during its general session this year.
“You want to know how many he didn’t like? One,” he said.
Daxton Hauck, the newly elected governor of Windridge Elementary’s combined third-grade classes, effectively vetoed the bill, which gave Adams the opportunity to teach the students about a veto override.
Overriding the veto would take a two-thirds vote of the senate.
“Teachers, help me. What’s two-thirds of 80?” said Adams, who leads a 29-member body.
The vote fell short of the 53 votes needed to override the veto, which Adams said was upsetting for someone from the legislative branch of government.
“I’ll probably be depressed the rest of the day,” he said, joking.
Third-grade teacher Jessica Payne invited Adams to the school last fall and Adams, serving his first term as Senate president, said he wasn’t able to fit the visit into his schedule until after the general session.
Payne didn’t know Adams but she lives in his Senate district, so perhaps that helped persuade him to come to Windridge Elementary.
“I thought it was such a cool thing to do and just shows a real authenticity and care for our community that he was able to come today and share his knowledge and experience with our kids,” Payne said.
Adams said leading the mock senate “was a riot. It was a lot of fun. I told them I want to be in third grade again.”2 comments on this story
He added, “Our future is really bright. We got great kids but we also have great teachers. They invited me here and I think what an honor it is to come be part of the school today and to get to know the kids.”
Payne said the students were “super engaged” with Adams leading the classroom and bringing real world significance to the students' recent study of the three branches of government.
“They’ve been learning they have checks and balances and how they each have a separate job,” she said.
Payne said Adams' visit exceeded expectations.
“I thought it was fantastic. I thought he did a great job. The kids were really engaged, just had a lot of fun and learned a lot,” she said.