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Spin Control: Cute kids, a would-be state dinosaur and willing Legislators – only one thing is missing

Legislative sessions rarely pass without the esteemed lawmakers being asked by a group of school children to pass a law they really care about.

Often, it is to name an official state something, like the multiyear effort to name the Suciasaurus the state dinosaur.

It’s a well-established lesson plan: find something the kids are passionate about, or at least interested in, then have them do some research to find out why it’s special enough to get that official state designation.

For example, the kids may all love bananas but they don’t grow in Washington and there’s already a state fruit.

Learn a bit about civics, or at least watch the “I’m Just a Bill” video and study a few differences between the state and federal process.

Contact a local legislator to speak to the class and ask for their help in turning this class exercise into an official state something. (No legislator with either brains or survival instincts can say “no” to a class of eager youngsters, knowing they would go home that night and tell their parents about the mean old person who ignored all their hard work.)

After the legislator introduces the official state something designation bill, bring a group of hard-to-say-no-to students to the Capitol for a hearing to urge committee members to vote for the bill. Legislators who normally grill state officials about how they are misspending money or messing up key programs will congratulate the students on their interest in government.

The hearing is guaranteed to generate news coverage, because reporters who normally write about boring things like budgets and infrastructure rarely pass up a chance to write about cute kids with fun ideas. They also know that their editors are tired of stories about budgets and infrastructure, and will put that proposed official state something on the front page.

Sometimes, the official special state something designation bill sails through the Legislature. More often, it gets through its first committee hearing and winds up far down on the list of bills the full chamber must handle before a key deadline, and doesn’t get a floor vote. Or it gets through one chamber and moves to the other, where it sits around waiting for another hearing or vote until the final days of the session. Then some cranky old legislator who claims to have nothing against this special something will complain about wasting time on a not-so-important bill when there’s so many other more important things they should be doing.

An official special state something designation bill often dies in its first attempt, which is also a good lesson for the students, because most bills die every session and even the best ideas take multiple tries. But the local legislator promises the kids to bring it back next year.

The process starts over with a new official special state something designation bill, new hearings with hard-to-say-no-to kids at the Capitol and more votes. It can continue like that for years, getting close but failing to get a final vote until the cranky old legislator is replaced or is persuaded to stop being so cranky with something they want, like an official special state something designation bill from their district or extra money for a favorite project in the capital budget.

This is the loop the official state dinosaur bill found itself in for five years.

The Elmhurst Elementary School fourth-graders who first came to Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, with the idea of an official state dinosaur are in eighth grade now. Their idea got a committee hearing late in the 2019 session, too late for a vote. It got a hearing and a House vote, but no Senate hearing or vote in 2020. There were House committee hearings but no floor votes in 2021 and 2022. It got a House committee hearing and a House vote earlier this year, along with a Senate committee hearing on Friday.

The Suciasaurus – which often has the title of “rex” added to its name, although that Latin designation of kingliness among its contemporary therapods is yet to be proven – might seem like a good candidate for the official state dinosaur.

It’s unlikely to spark competition from fans of another dinosaur, because the 80-million-year-old chunk of leg bone is the only dinosaur fossil to be found in the state.

Most of the land that is now Washington was underwater during the Cretaceous Era. The state marine park on Sucia Island is now part of the San Juans archipelago, but the dinosaur connected to this leg bone likely romped around land that is somewhere between what is now San Francisco and Baja California. Tectonic shifting over millions of years pushed that land north.

“So this is another import from California?” Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, asked at Friday’s Senate State Government Committee hearing.

“But now we own it, Sen. Fortunato,” Morgan replied, adding the Suciasaurus “has been waiting patiently in extinction,” and so have the students from Elmhurst Elementary who are now in junior high school. It’s time to show them their voice matters, she added.

Maybe the state dinosaur bill should be combined with the bill that would designate “The Evergreen State” as the official state nickname, Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, suggested.

Morgan, perhaps sensing a pathway to passage, agreed: “Anything we can do to show the rest of the nation that we care about our state, the Evergreen State, going along with our state dinosaur, our state insect our state flower … This would go along well with the list we have.”

Sometimes supporters overreach in their zeal to get their official special state something designation bill passed. Morgan and some students at the hearing suggested the fossil could boost tourism among dinosaur fans, which seems unlikely, as there’s not much therapod attached to that hunk of bone. It is housed, however, at the Burke Museum, which does have an impressive collection of dinosaur fossils discovered outside Washington boundaries.

One can argue that Washington doesn’t need an official state dinosaur, or that it isn’t a Washington dinosaur, or even that there are more important things for the Legislature to pass. But one could also argue the former Elmhurst fourth-graders deserve credit for perseverance and that they’ll keep coming back until both chambers of the Legislature say yes.

If that happens it would be nice if the state superintendent of Public Instruction would send out a memo to all school districts, suggesting that Washington has plenty of officially designated special state somethings. It may be time to turn those hard-to-say-no-to students loose on things the Legislature could do that would affect them directly, like expanding the free school lunch program, guaranteeing a set amount of recess time or coming up with more money for nurses, counselors and librarians.

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