Michael Leotta had a point to make when he recommended that the Maryland Student Legislature pass a resolution to change the name of the U.S. emblem, the bald eagle, to the “colorlessly headed eagle.”
His point involved more than the negative connotation baldness has in the United States or that “feelings of humiliation, insecurity, inferiority and discrimination should not be associated with our national emblem.”
“I proposed this legislation to make us think about what we’re doing,” said the freshman from the University of Maryland at College Park. “The point is that we should be here because we want to be here. We should be learning something.”
Leotta, a pre-law major, said he proposed the trivial resolution to make his fellow “representatives” and “senators” think about some of the unworthy legislation they approved at the last quarterly session.
“Some of it was very good,” the 18-year-old said. “But there’s no way that 100 percent of it deserved to become law. This makes us look bad when we go to the Maryland General Assembly.”
The student legislature, founded by a group at the University of Maryland at College Park in late 1989, attempts to mirror the General Assembly to provide college students with insight into the political process.
Thomas Quirk, Western Maryland College’s delegation chairman, said the MSL provides “excellent opportunities” in training and developing leadership skills, campaigning for public office, drafting and debating legislation, public speaking and working with parliamentary procedures.
“This is an up-and-coming organization with dynamic potential,” said the 21-year-old junior political science and business administration major.
WMC, John Hopkins University, and the University of Maryland are charter members of the student assembly. Also among the 90 students in attendance at WMC over the weekend were delegations from Morgan State University in Baltimore, Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg and St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s City.
“There’s no other forum for Maryland students to get together under one roof and debate,” said Troy Simmons, a 27-year-old graduate student in international relations at the University of Maryland.
Students are elected by their own MSL chapter delegations as representatives or senators from their respective institutions, and then meet quarterly to draft legislation on local, state, and national affairs.
Typically, each session results in 10 to 15 bills, which are hammered into shape at the MSL’s annual meeting in April and then presented to the General Assembly for consideration.
“We’re here to discuss and debate,” Leotta said. “If we pass quality legislation that goes to the state, we have a voice in the legislature — a voice we don’t have now.”
Simmons noted that two MSL resolutions, including one that would have eliminated the waiting period to purchase guns by setting up a statewide data system, have been considered by the state’s legislative committees.
“They didn’t come out of committee, though,” he said.
During the recent session, the MSL approved proposals to abolish quotas for hiring minorities in the private and public sector, ban smoking in enclosed public places, and allow institutions receiving federal money to offer minority scholarships.
Failing to gain MSL endorsement were resolutions to have the Major Soccer League change its acronym, which is the same as the Maryland Student Legislature and to establish diplomatic and economic relations with Vietnam.
Leotta’s proposal for a “colorlessly headed eagle” emblem also failed.
“There’s a lot of politics,” Quirk said. “What passes depends on the sponsor and his or her support. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of conservatives in the MSL.”
Past legislation has dealt with a woman’s right to an abortion, smoking in the workplace, affirmative action, and capital punishment.
Students hope the MSL, modeled after a North Carolina program and one of 22 student legislatures in the United States, will become a barometer of young voters’ concerns in Maryland.