New Hampshire lawmakers honor students after raptor debacle

AP News
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Posted: Mar 25, 2015 12:52 PM

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Lawmakers on Wednesday passed a resolution formally encouraging student participation in state government even as the legislators were being lampooned nationally for mocking what started as a civics lesson for fourth-graders.

The action in the House of Representatives follows the much-criticized and publicized debate over the students' effort to name the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor. As the students from Lincoln Akerman School watched from the House gallery March 12, one lawmaker invoked abortion and others called the students' effort a waste of time. One suggested the state would next be naming an official state hot dog.

The House defeated the kids' bill.

Students study New Hampshire state history in fourth-grade, and classes often work with a legislator to bring a measure to the floor, leading in recent years to the naming of a state dog, amphibian, insect, fruit and vegetable.

Blowback was swift. National media wrote about the comments, editorial writers blasted lawmakers, comedian John Oliver shredded them on his HBO show and the satirical website The Onion weighed in, too. The Republican speaker of the House requested an apology — so far not forthcoming — from the legislator who said the hawk rips its prey apart "limb by limb" and would make a better mascot for Planned Parenthood.

School Principal Mark Deblois said the abortion reference went over the students' heads, but the joke about the state hot dog stung. He said Wednesday that he's received hundreds of emails from around the world praising the students and encouraging them to stay involved.

"We're always talking to kids about making sure they always take ownership for their actions," he said Wednesday. "It seems that there was some resistance to admitting mistakes were made. And that's sad. It seems to be something your average fourth-grader understands quite well."

Rep. Renny Cushing, who sponsored the students' bill, addressed the chamber Wednesday and apologized to all the students in the state for his colleagues' actions. Cushing said he first came to the statehouse as a fourth-grader and later, before he was elected, helped bring a bill to the floor that was defeated.

"No one made fun of the legislation. No one mocked me," he said. "What I remember is I was treated with respect."

Cushing said he's talked to the kids.

"In the aftermath, there's been a fair amount of attention to what we did that day," Cushing said. "I told them it's not always like this here. That we're really not as mean and cranky as we were that day."

When Cushing finished speaking, the lawmakers rose to their feet and applauded for several seconds, but when a motion was made to enter his comments into the permanent record, a minority of legislators shouted, "No!"