Given the pitiful state of public discourse at the State Capitol these days, we shouldn’t be surprised when children visiting the Legislature end up looking more mature than the grown-ups. That’s what happened recently when 10-year-old Sam Peter of Harahan showed up at a legislative hearing and tried to testify about a bill.
The bill would have allowed teachers to be armed, and Peter reasonably assumed that lawmakers might be interested in what an actual student thought about the idea.
Not so, as Peter quickly discovered when state Rep. Sherman Q. Mack, an Albany Republican, told Peter he couldn’t testify. Peter remained polite and respectful, although he was obviously disappointed — and no doubt mystified, since Mack, who chairs the Administration of Criminal Justice Committee, offered no explanation for his actions.
Mack later said that he prevented Peter from speaking because a child can’t be sworn before giving testimony. But Mack conceded that no rules ban children from testifying, which is pretty obvious since it happens quite a bit at the Capitol.
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Last year, for example, a number of high school students spoke with reasoned conviction about an ill-conceived and time-wasting bill to rename the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts. They proved more eloquent than the lawmakers running the hearing, although on any given day, that can be a pretty low bar.
A cynic might be forgiven for assuming that Mack simply didn’t want to risk the embarrassment of having a 10-year-old publicly point out how foolish the bill was. It later failed to pass the committee, and Peter got a consolation prize. Gov. John Bel Edwards, learning of Peter's troubles before the committee, invited him up to his office and heard him out.
Peter discovered something many older citizens have come to know. When you try to bend the ear of Louisiana lawmakers, they’re not always keen to hear what you have to say.
Too bad he had to learn that grim lesson at the ripe age of 10.