OPINION-EDITORIAL: Legislative page program gives high-school students an up-close look at lawmaking
On the first floor of the state Capitol in the Page Room, photos are displayed of young people who served as legislative pages during the early years of the program. These images are an interesting look back at the history of what may be one of longest and most successful legislative page programs on the West Coast.
Since 1891, young people have come to Olympia from all corners of the state to help during the busy legislative sessions. It is a unique educational opportunity for students, ages 14 to 16, to watch lawmakers in action and to participate in the process. And it continues to thrive today with two or three dozen students working in the Legislature each week while it is in session.
During the week they serve in the Capitol. Pages may be involved in ceremonial duties, such as the presentation of the flags, or they may assist by handing out amendments, bills, notes and memos on the floors of the House or Senate. They may even work in the gift shop or cafeteria. In addition, for two hours each day, pages are schooled about how legislation is crafted, and at the end of the week, they hold mock legislative hearings on the bills they've written. Pages work directly with elected lawmakers and witness bills being proposed, debated and passed. They typically put in nine-hour days, from 7:45 a.m. to about 5 p.m., and are paid $35 a day.
I had the honor of befriending a visionary of the legislative page program who grew up in Walla Walla, but lived in Oak Harbor where she was an active community leader. Gina Grant Bull, the daughter of the late Rep. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, served as House page supervisor from December 2007 to March 2008, and then returned again as page supervisor in December 2015. Gina wanted to extend the opportunity for pages to participate in the page program regardless of economic status.
Pages live with host families in Olympia-area neighborhoods for the week they serve and pay their hosts $100 to $175 for that housing. But not every young person can afford that cost, which has discouraged some from participating in the program. Gina came up with the idea of a scholarship program that would provide housing assistance and travel funds for qualified young people who want to serve as pages, but cannot afford the fee. Gina was working on the concept when she suddenly passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage October 2016 at the age of 57.
To carry out Gina's wishes, Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, and I introduced legislation in the Senate (Senate Bill 5346) and the House (House Bill 1194) respectfully during the 2017 session to create the Gina Grant Bull Memorial Legislative Page Scholarship Program. It doesn't involve taxpayer dollars or money from the state budget. Instead, private donations are accepted to help pages offset the expense of traveling to and staying in Olympia for the week. The Senate bill passed the Legislature and was signed into law, and the scholarship took effect July 22. Now every student, regardless of income, will be able to apply as a legislative page. If you would like to contribute to this scholarship fund, go to this web address for donor information: http://leg.wa.gov/PageSchool/Pages/GinaBullScholarshipDonation.aspx.
If you know of a young person who could benefit from the legislative page program, please encourage them to apply by going to this website: http://leg.wa.gov/House/Pages/HousePageProgram.aspx. From there, they can download an application. To qualify, they must have permission from a parent or guardian and their school, be at least 14 years of age and have not reached their 17th birthday, and be sponsored by a current member of the House of Representatives or Senate. It is my honor to sponsor qualified individuals for the program. I encourage applicants to contact my office in Olympia at (360) 786-7914 for more information.
The page program is perhaps one of the best civic education opportunities our young people will receive outside of their own school. It offers high-school students an up-close view of their state government, while giving them the opportunity to exercise leadership skills and meet students and legislators from all corners of Washington. There are even some elected lawmakers who first served in the Legislature many years ago as pages. It's also a nice addition on a résumé to show that you were selected to serve as a legislative page.
You may donate any time throughout the year to the scholarship, but now is the time to submit applications in time for the 2018 legislative session. I encourage you to become involved in this unique, educational and historical Washington Legislative Page Program!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, serves the 10th District, and prime sponsor of House Bill 1194, one of two measures creating the Legislative Page Scholarship Program.