GALVESTON — Violet Schuebert was a little nervous. After all, testifying in front of a committee of state representative isn’t exactly the most relaxing position to be in.
Even less so when you’re only 10 years old and proposing that a certain shelled reptile be adopted as an official state symbol.
Despite her nerves, the Oppe Elementary School fourth-grader gathered herself and delivered her pitch to make the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle the state’s official sea turtle to the House’s Committee on Culture, Recreation and Tourism during a hearing in late March.
Today, that bill is one step closer to becoming a law. The House voted Thursday, passing state Rep. Craig Eiland’s House Resolution 31 and sending it on to the state Senate. If the bill makes it through the upper house, it could be signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry later this year.
“It feels really exciting, and I was pretty proud,” Violet said about the bill’s passage though the house. “I really think that it will go all the way through.”
The bill is the brainchild of Violet and 23 other fourth-graders at Oppe Elementary School. The after-school group, known as the Green Team, participates in various environmental projects such as beach cleanups and recycling drives. This year, however, the group decided to take up lobbying as well — arming themselves with a variety of talking points about the symbolic worthiness of the sea turtle.
The sea turtles, once on the brink of extinction, have made a resurgence in the Gulf of Mexico during the past 30-plus years but are still in need of protection and attention, the students said.
What’s more, state institutions including Texas A&M University and the University of Texas, have played roles in preserving the species, and the turtles themselves show a resiliency that make it a deserving of symbol of Texas grit.
Plus, come on, this is hardly the most frivolous piece of paper that will go by a politico’s desk this year.
“I mean, they passed a pie bill, so they have to pass this one,” 10-year-old Gia Viggiano said.
Under the guidance Oppe science teacher Kathyrn Blaser, the Green Team researched the sea turtles — which every year lay eggs along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico — and decided the turtle should join the longhorn, armadillo and Texas horned lizard (“horny toad” to generations of Texas children) on the list of official state animals.
Eiland, D-Galveston, visited the students at the school and taught them about the legislative process, including how to write and submit a bill to the legislature. In return, the students took a field trip to Austin to testify in front of the tourism committee and lobby lawmakers.
Blaser, who founded the club and runs it through donations and volunteers, said she was impressed by her students’ enthusiasm for the project and also by the dedication of their parents.
“These parents have so much faith in this,” Blaser said. “All of their parents took off work and drove them to Austin. It’s kind of a community effort.”
In the meantime, the class will be keeping a close eye on its bill.
Eiland said the bill didn’t receive any objections in the House, and in talking to his local counterpart in the Senate, Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, didn’t anticipate there being any threats to the bill’s passage.
“I have confidence that it should get through,” Eiland said, adding that if did reach the governor’s desk, he hoped Perry would visit the island to perform a ceremonial bill signing.