The student news site of Western Albemarle High School - Crozet, VA

The Western Hemisphere

The student news site of Western Albemarle High School - Crozet, VA

The Western Hemisphere

The student news site of Western Albemarle High School - Crozet, VA

The Western Hemisphere

Finally Legal: Model Congress Celebrates Its 18th Year at Western

Senate+Majority+Leader+Opal+Kendall+announces+the+next+proposed+bill+at+the+Senate+Judiciary+meeting.
Credit: Cooper Shelton
Senate Majority Leader Opal Kendall announces the next proposed bill at the Senate Judiciary meeting.

If you walked into Ms. Miracle or Mr. Richmond in the last four weeks, you would have seen groups of seniors huddled into subcommittees, working tirelessly to address the most pressing issues in today’s world. You may have heard something like “We need to reallocate GI funding to address the educator shortage” or “Elderly drivers are a danger to public safety” or “The Supreme Court has become corrupt” or even “The customary system is part of what makes me Amerian.” 

Model Congress, the source of these impassioned discussions, is an opportunity for seniors to practice the political engagement they have been learning about all year by writing, debating, amending, and passing their own bills about the issues they care about. This year’s crop of Model Congress bills, for example, features solutions to the fentanyl crisis, reforms to voting practices, caps on prescription drug costs, measures to reduce the cost of higher education, protections against gun violence, and, yes, one act to switch the United States to the metric system. 

Throughout the day, our staff will be providing live updates on the events of Model Congress and how the senior class feels about those goings-on. Those updates can be found here, on our website, and our Instagram (@thewesternhemisphere).

Morning Updates

3/13/24 – Senate Committee Chair Meeting

Preceding the big day, committee chairs of both houses met to lay out agendas. Senate leadership received the list of bills that had passed subcommittee votes – and thus would proceed to floor debates – and worked to determine which committee would tackle each bill and what order they would do so in. An important deciding factor in this was the party of each bill’s sponsor. “It’s sort of a tug-of-war game between Democratic chairs and Republican ranking members,” said Senate Judiciary Committee chair Eli Hughes. “Democrats want more of their bills first, Republicans want more of their bills first,” they said. A fair party balance is key to an agenda that will ensure diverse bills all receive the consideration they need.

~ Gracy Tracey, Opinion Editor

 9:16 – Education and Labor Committee Passes Book Review Committee Bill 

Rachael Pond’s Book Review Committee bill passed unanimously this morning.  The bill would require that books deemed “explicit” in public schools would undergo a review by a committee to decide whether to pull the books off the shelves, helping prevent an outright ban of books. Most books that are banned in schools have LQBTQ+ content or discuss racial topics, preventing people from learning about major issues.

~ Maria Kinnan, Student Life Editor 

9:31 – Last Chance Act fails to pass in the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security Committee

Jack Steenburgh and Fallon Stephens’s Last Chance Act failed to pass in committee. The bill aimed to eliminate the deaths caused by fentanyl in the US. Steenburgh accused the countries Mexico and China of deliberately producing and transporting this drug. The bill requested two billion dollars of federal grants to supply social workers and medical professionals and fortify the southern border. Aside from the 15 million dollars requested to strengthen security at the border. Fallon urged the abolishment of all other forms of immigration aside from merit-based immigration. “We can’t just stand by and do nothing,” Steenburgh affirmed.

~ Sophie Mathew, Sports Editor

9:35 – House Judiciary unanimously passes Voter Security Act

Joshua Xie and Connor Spano’s bill, the Voter Security and Accessibility Reform Act, unanimously passed in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill aims to incentivize election participation by marking Election Day as a national holiday and offering a $50 USD tax credit to voters who participate in elections. This tax write-off will be funded with up to 2% of the Department of Health and Human Services’ budget.

~ Annabelle Mackey, News Editor 

9:36 – A Bill to Protect Abortion Passes in the House Health and Human Services Committee

Ella Connelly proposed the Right to Choose Act, a bill that would federally legalize abortion until the 16-week mark, after which an appeal may be made based on existing medical conditions. After a heated debate, a proposed amendment that a woman needs to state her reasons for getting an abortion before the medical procedure, failed. Finally, the bill passed with an overwhelming majority vote.

~ Ika Gottlieb, Staff Writer

9:56 – Bill to Authorize Universal Paid Maternity Leave Passes Unanimously

Representative Lily Anderson’s bill, H.R. 252, unanimously passed the House Ways & Means, Commerce, and Transportation Committee. The bill aims to protect new parents by authorizing universal paid maternity leave. When responding to controversy over the bill’s potential to harm small businesses, Mallory Smith said, “It’s going to help so many more people and families because if you don’t have time off, you cannot take care of your baby. You cannot deal with the negative effects that come up from pregnancy.”

~ Annabelle Mackey, News Editor

10:00 – Bill to Increase Child Labor Regulations Passes in Education and Labor Committee

Natalie Johnson’s bill, Bill 113, passed with a majority vote. The bill would protect children’s rights to have safe access to education by forcing companies to have stronger child labor regulations. It would provide more funding to employment agencies, and make the minimum working age be 14 years old. Employers that violate these child labor laws would be subject to heavy fines and strict regulations.

~ Maria Kinnan, Student Life Editor

10:22 – Clean Energy for AI Act Passes in the House Energy and Environment Committee

Ellie Schundler’s Bill, the Clean Energy for AI Act, passed with an overwhelming vote. The bill, aiming to cut down on the use of fossil fuels in AI, would require AI companies to either convert their data centers to use 90% reusable energy or switch to data centers that already do. Schundler described data centers, needed for AI, as “essentially computers using energy… on a much larger scale.” To raise incentives, a steep fine, likely much higher than the price to switch to renewable energy, would be implemented for companies who do not comply.

~ Ika Gottlieb, Staff Writer

Drug Offenses Bill Passes Unanimously in the Senate Judiciary Committee

Ayda Jones’ Abolition of Mandatory Minimum for Nonviolent Drug Offenses Bill passed unanimously. The bill seeks to institute this definition and issue an official mandatory minimum for these offenses. Currently, prosecutors have the power to dictate the years of minimum and there is no set minimum in every state, but Jones rallies to change that. Jones defined non-violent drug offenses as “not involving force or injury to another person.”

~ Sophie Mathew, Sports Editor

11:07 – House Republican Caucus Meeting

House Republicans celebrated a successful voting season during this morning’s caucus meeting, which minority leader Wasif Mohi excitedly referred to as the “red wave.” Party leadership endorsed passing Collin McLaughlin’s Home & Security Act, a bipartisan voting security bill, and a bill that would prevent transgender people from participating in women’s sports, in addition to various other pieces of legislation. The committee argued against a bill that would allow abortion up to 16 weeks. 

~ Lucy Shadel, Staff Writer

House Passes Voter Security Act

The bill for Voter Security and Accessibility Reform passed in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. It will work to increase voter turnout by making federal election days holidays, creating voting extensions, and creating a Voter Fraud Agency or VFA. An argument against the bill said that because the VFA is under the Executive Branch, the president will be able to dictate what is or isn’t voter fraud and will likely lead to corruption. The response to the dissent by Connor Spano said  “Just because it’s under the executive branch doesn’t mean that he has total control; he just decides who represents them.”

~ Isabella Stewart, Staff Writer

11:24 – Border Security Act Passes on the House Floor

Collin McLaughlin’s bill, The Border Security Overhaul Act, was voted in unanimously by the House this morning. The Chair of Homeland Security, Eleanor Buchanan, encouraged all representatives to support it, stating it was “very bipartisan” and “[the] most well thought-out bill regarding homeland security.” The bill provides a plan to build immigration control centers within Mexico. The centers are meant to keep illegal immigrants within their own country for their own safety, as within their own country they can still do anything a citizen would be able to do, whereas in the US they cannot. Its goal is to also disincentivize people from trying to illegally cross the border because it’s not worth the risk. The budget for the bill is 50 billion dollars, which most representatives agreed on.

~ Ike Noth,  Assistant Editor

11:36 – Abortion Bill Passes Through the House of Representatives

The Freedom to Choose Act, written by Ema Connelly, was passed in the House of Representatives. The act would make abortion legal in every state if there are life-threatening circumstances or until the 16-week point and after 16 weeks, they can appeal to get an abortion. The bill states that healthcare professionals are not required to perform the medical procedure, however, if they choose not to they must refer the patient to a professional who is. A representative in support stated that “If you don’t want an abortion don’t have one, it’s just giving you the choice to choose what you want to do… it’s the right to choose what you do with your body.” Connor Spano, the minority whip said “You find out that you’re pregnant at 6-8 weeks so the Republican party thinks that 10 weeks should be the cut-off. ” There was a proposal to amend the bill to change it from 16 weeks to 10 and that the healthcare providers do not have to defer their patients, however, this amendment failed 68 to 62 votes.

~ Isabella Stewart, Staff Writer

Afternoon Updates

12:20 – House Unanimously Passes an AI Regulation Act

The Transparency and Regulation in Generative AI Act by Johnathan Alexander, is, as one representative said, “incredibly important.” Alexander said, “It’s pretty much just making things that are created by AI abide by the same copyright laws that things that are made by a person do… and everything that is created by AI, it must be stated that is is made by AI so celebrities don’t get bashed for things they don’t do.” Images and videos created by AI will be recognized from their watermarks. This act passed unanimously in the House.

~ Isabella Stewart, Staff Writer

12:42 – Senate Passes Bill Electoral College Reform Bill

Senate Bill #438, an electoral college reform bill, passed this morning, 33-29. Majority leader Opal Kendall championed the bill as a way to increase Americans’ faith in their elections, and not give citizens unequal voting power. Minority leader Quinn Wiley argued the bill would reduce the power of those in small states, and that it diluted democracy. Despite Republican objections, the bill passed with bipartisan support.

~ Reid Keller, Staff Writer

1:01 – Sustainable Roads Act Passes in the House

The Sustainable Roads Act of 2024, sponsored by Caroline Just, passed on the House Floor. Just spoke about replacing 30% of public roads with permeable roads allowing water to filter through and replenish the aquifers, giving citizens clean water. The act would especially benefit lower-income families who are often not given the cleanest waters. The Republican party questioned whether the high costs were necessary to replace the roads and Just corrected that, “I am not saying we need to fix all our roads but that we need to find a way to address the water crisis.”

~ Sophie Mathew, Sports Editor

12:39 – House Passes Women’s Sport Protection and Fairness Act

The Women’s Sports Protection and Fairness Act, written by Juliana Murphy, would make the eligibility to participate in a sport based on someone’s biological sex, applying to both public and private institutions. An amendment to broaden the bill so that it applies to transgender men and women was adopted, as well as one creating an open section for people who do not identify with their sex assigned at birth. One dissenting representative said “If we want to protect women’s rights, that means including trans women under that umbrella.” Defending her bill, Juliana Murphy cited a study showing how men and boys tended to outperform women in sports by 10-12%. The minority leader, Wasif Mohi, spoke about Lia Thomas’, a national transgender swimmer and advocate for legislature such as the proposed bill, ranking disparities between her performance in men’s and in women’s sports, and another speaker spoke about how it harms the female athlete community. Juliana Murphy said that her bill is “Not to discriminate but to keep integrity and fairness for women’s sports.” The Women’s Sports Protection and Fairness Act passed in the House of Representatives 87-27.

~ Isabella Stewart, Staff Writer

12:35 – Paid Parental Leave Act Unanimously Passes House

With a rousing aye, the Paid Parental Leave Act of 2024 was passed unanimously in the House Floor. “The US is one of the only countries that doesn’t have a national paid leave,” Representative Lily Anderson explained in her reasoning around why the bill should be passed. In light of its passing, parents will have more time to take care of their kids and ensure a stable upbringing.

~ Sophie Mathew, Sports Editor

12:44 – Bill to Provide Universal Preschool Passes Unanimously on Senate Floor

Senator Phebe Ryan’s bill which would provide universal pre-kindergarten services to all children passed unanimously on the senate floor today. “Attending preschool greatly raises literacy rates,” explained a senator in favor of the bill. Senator Ryan, the author of this bill, expressed her desire to provide quality education for all American children, regardless of the economic means of their parents. “With my bill, children will be better suited to go on into college and to find better careers.”

~ Lucy Shadel, Staff Writer

2:00 – Disaster Insurance Reform Act Passes House Health and Human Services Committee

Alexis Price’s Disaster Insurance Reform Act passed in the House Health and Human Services Committee. Their main issue with the goal, as they discussed, was clarity on the financial aspects of it. The bill, which provides aid after natural disasters, passed the Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee unanimously. After short discussion, the bill passed again in an 8-3 vote.

~ Olivia Moore, Assistant Editor

Senate Health and Education Committee Fails Sports Protection Act

The Women’s Sports Protection and Fairness Act written by Juliana Murphy failed in the Senate Health and Education committee. Some issues cited by committee members include it “addressing a very highly debarred topic without much clarity,” and they also said that they were “wondering about the fact that it’s just collegiate based, but not anything before… we know that levels of growth hormone levels can reach their maximum prior to the collegiate level.”

~ Isabella Stewart, Staff Writer

2:37 – House Budget and Commerce Committee Passes Insider Trading Bill

With a deafening “aye,” Aidan Bakich’s Prevention of Insider Trading Within Congress bill passed in the House of Representatives Committee. The bill, which battles corruption and illegal actions within Congress, was heavily supported by Democratic representatives, but both parties voted in favor. 

~ Olivia Moore, Assistant Editor

Senate Passes House of Representatives Abortion Protection Act

House Majority Leader Ella Connelly’s bill, the Freedom to Choose Act, passed the Senate. The bill will protect the right to abort pregnancies at the federal level. “I think the Democratic position on abortion is pretty clear. We protect everybody’s right to choose what they want to do with their bodies and we believe that the government should have no say in people’s bodily autonomy,” Senate Majority Leader Opal Kendall said.

~ Annabelle Mackey, News Editor

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About the Contributors
Audrey Miracle, Editor-in-Chief
Audrey is a junior at Western in her third year of Journalism and is a co-Editor-in-Chief. She is a member of the WAHS Swim Team and likes to spend her spare time reading books, listening to music, and watching TV. Audrey's favorite thing to do at Western is decorating the halls and dressing up for Spirit Week.
Cooper Shelton, Staff Writer
Cooper is a junior at WAHS. He plays football, is a leadership Class Officer, and loves hiking. He's wanted to take Journalism for a while and finally has space for it, and is in his third year of Photography. At home Cooper loves Marvel, Star Wars and other sci-fi things, His favorite superhero is Spider-Man.
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