The United States House and Senate are now in session in Neosho, in a classroom at Neosho High School.

The United States House and Senate are now in session in Neosho, in a classroom at Neosho High School.
They're proposing, discussing, and voting on bills just like the actual legislators in Washington DC and in Jefferson City. Unlike elected officials, however, the students are involved for a lesson about how government works.
This year marks the second that Neosho High School government and history teacher Conon Gillis has presented the project as a learning experience for his students. According to Gillis, knowing how the U.S. government works can be challenging, even for many adults. Understanding how a bill becomes a law can be even more difficult to explain or to understand. In his efforts to teach students more about government in action, he came up with a unique idea to demonstrate to students how a bill becomes a law. Gillis divided his junior and senior level government classes into two groups and a virtual Congress was in session.
Two classes act as the House of Representatives and two serve as members of the U.S. Senate. Each of the groups elected a Speaker of the House or a President pro tempore. Gillis presides as a Supreme Court Justice over each group.
In both the House and Senate, students propose bills. Just like Congressmen and Senators, they discuss and debate the bills, sometimes dividing into committees. They make compromises and alter the bills if the majority votes for the change. If a bill passes in one chamber, it goes to the other for a vote. Any bill that passes in both the House and Senate are reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Gillis' third hour government students have been active with bills that range from serious issues like gun license registration and a bill on environmental issues to a short-lived bill proposal to ban "starlight shower light projectors" during the holiday season.
The proposed gun registration bill proved especially timely with the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.  Class Senate President pro tempore Colby Lane introduced the bill discussion, "The bill we have on the floor would require than gun registration become more like driver's licenses, where it can be renewed.
The bill suggested that gun registration would be mandated to be more like driver's license renewals. As written and approved by students, the bill calls for an age restriction of 18 for a rifle and age 21 for a handgun registration. It requires psychiatric testing and safety training every three years and calls for immediate testing if there is a traumatic event in a person's life or a change in medication.
There would be more extensive testing in the event of any psychological impairment.
All firearms would be registered with local law enforcement departments. Under the bill, each state would decide whether or not they would pay for testing. Cost and price of any testing would also be left up to the states.
Military personnel would have to register but they would be required to have only the psychological testing with the safety training waived.
After a discussion, the 3rd hour Senate voted to approve the bill.
Gillis, as both teacher and Supreme Court Justice, suggested they move on to another bill, one that had passed on the House floor. The bill, called the Lorax Bill, with the name taken from the environmentally conscious children's book 'The Lorax' written by Dr. Suess.
The bill calls for more regulation on air pollution and littering. Some key points of the bill wee to divert some government money from fossil fuel toward alternative forms of energy, to enact harsher punishments for repeated offenders who littered, add a fine for burning plastic, to fine corporations that go over pollution caps and to require business and schools to recycle with fines left to states to determine. A revision from the original proposed bill said that emissions regulations on cars will not be affected.
"What happened to the name of the bill," Senator Austin Reed asked. "This was my bill and it was the Reed-Lomax bill."
"We shortened it," Gillis told him.
The main discussion topic focused on whether or not emissions should remain unaffected or if they should become more restrictive.
"So you want to make it more restrictive?" Lane asked.
Senator Caleb Williams cited statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "75% of carbon monoxide emissions are due to automobiles," he stated. "On road vehicles create about 1/3 of the smog and transportation in the United States causes over 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions are harmful so we do need to put a cap on that."
Senator Austin Reed agreed. "We have cars for what, sixty years now and 75% is a lot."
"I believe it's a little more than that," Williams replied, holding up two fingers to indicate it's been much more than six decades.
Senators voted to remove the amendment regarding the emissions and voted to pass the bill.
It will then go to Supreme Court Justice Gillis for review.
On a more whimsical note, Reed suggested a bill to ban the use of starlight shower projectors during the holiday season. "This might be a personal issue," Reed said. "At Christmas time, all the lights are pretty but we need to ban the light projectors." Star Shower laser projectors are used to shine a series of lights or images on buildings during the holiday season. When asked to list his reasons for proposing the bill, Reed replied, "They're ugly. They look hideous, it's gross and lazy."
Laughter broke out during the brief discussion and the proposed bill was scrapped in a near unanimous vote.
In the last minutes of the class session, Senator Parker suggested a new bill to ban Tide Pods, the detergent pods that have been the focus of a "Tide Pod Challenge" in which many, mostly teenagers, have been biting into the pods on a dare. Since each pod contains detergent, which is toxic, it's a dangerous practice.
"We need to talk about the Tide Pod thing," Parker said. "My brother, age six, tried to eat one yesterday so I think we need to have a bill to ban Tide Pods."
The Senate agreed to consider the bill and will take it under further discussion when they are back in session.
Last year the project ran for six weeks and will be the same length this year. Last year, Gillis deemed the first effort to be a success, saying "I think they saw it as authentic and most of them really enjoyed it. They also got a better idea why government moves slowly."
The hands on project is education in action, with students learning about the way government works by taking the same steps as their real life counterparts.
Since students enjoy the process while learning valuable real-life lessons, Gillis plans to keep the project going for future classes.