More than 50 outstanding Hispanic students from 16 City University of New York colleges debated two “hot-button” issues in the first college-level Model New York State Senate in Albany on March 8. Initiated by the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force of the New York State Legislature, the session took place in the State Capitol Senate Chamber in conjunction with the Task Force-sponsored Somos el Futuro Conference.
The students debated two bills that could have a direct effect on their lives–rent control and approving public colleges as work sites under workfare. Assemblyman Roberto Ramirez, who heads the Puerto/Rican Hispanic Task Force, introduced the workfare bill in the Assembly in the last Legislative session and reintroduced it this year. Senator John J. Marchi introduced it in the Senate.
“Working on a legislative agenda is a wonderful opportunity for students to pursue their interests in public service, develop their leadership skills, and become more involved in the governmental processes that affect them and their communities,” said CUNY Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds.
“While this conference is about state policy in 1997, it is also about preparing the bright young students from CUNY and SUNY to be leaders in the next century,” said Mr. Ramirez. “If we can show these young men and women that they can make a real difference working within the system, then we will have done a great deal toward strengthening our community for years to come.”
Recommended by their college presidents, students participated in preparatory seminars with Senator Ephraim Gonzalez, and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Housing. Students played the role of a Republican or Democratic State Senator from an actual electoral district with its particular characteristics. In some cases that meant arguing views contrary to their own.
In the training seminars, students studied Senate legislative process and rules as well as bills, memoranda and other materials on the selected legislative issues; explored member district characteristics and their import; and learned about lobbying strategies. Many of the students are political science majors and some are eyeing future careers in government, said CUNY coordinator Professor Edward Rogowsky, who developed the program.