College students see their idea become law

[private]Bills are most often passed in the General Assembly because the governor wants them, lobbyists push for them, or advocacy groups demand them, but Gov. Nathan Deal signed a measure into law Wednesday that started as a class project at a private college in Gainesville.

Deal put his signature on HB 62, a new law that will make it easier for some students with learning disabilities and other special needs to get educational assistance from the state.

HB 62 was the brainchild of four Brenau University graduate students who were working on degrees in occupational therapy last year.

Allison Guisasola, Ashley McCoy, Rachel Strazynski, and Shelby Wrenn took a course in public policy taught by David Miller, who gave them an assignment to “come up with an idea to modify an existing piece of legislation, what they think would be a good idea, and present this as a policy proposal.”

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The quartet of graduate students determined it was difficult for the children of military personnel to qualify for one of the state Department of Education’s special needs scholarships because they require at least a one-year residency within Georgia. That can be a difficult requirement for military families that often have to move when they are deployed to different states.

“We felt like that was such an easily amendable thing to look into, trying to get them (military children) therapy as soon as possible,” said Strazynski.

The students developed their proposal to amend the scholarship law and, as part of their course, made a formal presentation to state Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) and Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), who agreed to assess the project.

“This caught my attention because of the military presence in my district,” Tanner said. “It was something that really needed to be addressed.”

Tanner asked the students to send him a copy of their class presentation and used it to have a bill drafted that would waive the residency requirement for students whose parents are in stationed in Georgia on active military service.

HB 62 was introduced the first week of the General Assembly and was easily passed by the House and Senate. Deal signed it into law at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon sponsored by Brenau University.

“They did the work,” said Miller, the students’ professor. “I just went along for the ride.”

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Brenau University , David Miller , Kevin Tanner , military families , Nathan Deal , special needs scholarships