Douglas signs ‘Emily’s Bill’ into law

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(Host) On Friday, Governor Jim Douglas signed a bill into law that will make it possible for students who are in the custody of the state to receive a grant to go to college. The leading proponent of the plan is a 17-year-old central Vermont high school student who worked four years to achieve her goal.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) For Emily Lester, the last four years have been a crash course on how democracy works and the perseverance that’s needed to convince the General Assembly to take action on a piece of legislation.

The proposal, which is known at the Statehouse as Emily’s bill, would make up to $3,000 in grant money for higher education available to students who are in the custody of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. Emily Lester started working on this concept because of her own personal experience:

(Lester) “I was a foster child and when you think about college and you’re not, like, adopted or you don’t have a permanent family, you don’t think as highly as college because you don’t know how you’re going to pay for it.”

(Kinzel) Even though her initial efforts to win Legislative support were not successful, Lester didn’t give up:

(Lester) “I’m very motivated. For four years, the first year it didn’t go through. And then we just kept trying, so I guess I’m just highly motivated.”

(Kinzel) The chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Chittenden County Senator Jim Condos, says there’s an important lesson in the way this bill became law.

(Condos) “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for students to learn that they can do things that are important to them and that they can talk to their legislators and that they can move forward with legislation that is important, but that is good legislation.”

(Kinzel) The bill was rushed through the Senate on Friday so that Governor Jim Douglas could immediately sign it.

(Douglas) “So Emily, you’re one for one and believe me that’s a better track record than most members of the General Assembly or other organizations who come before the Legislature. You’ve done better than most professional lobbyists, so congratulations on your outstanding success. And because of her hard work it’ll be possible now for many more Vermonters to further their education.”

(Kinzel) And with the swift stroke of the governor’s pen the legislation became law:

(Douglas) “It’s a real pleasure to sign Emily’s bill and let me present you with the pen.” (Sound of applause.)

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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