AUGUSTA — A mock public hearing gave Eva Therrien of Eliot more than just a lesson into how the Maine Legislature works.

Committee member Eva Therrien debates L.D. 94 during the Maine Women’s Lobby’s Girls’ Day at the State House on Friday. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“I usually spend time with people like me who think like me,” Therrien said.

A student at Marshwood Middle School, Therrien was one of 100 eighth-graders to take part in Girls’ Day at the State House, presented by the Maine Women’s Lobby Education Fund. As part of the event, participants experience what it is like to be legislators and lobbyists debating a real bill.

LD 94, “An Act To Prohibit the Dissemination of Obscene Material by Public Schools,” sponsored by state Rep. Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, came before the Legislature in January. The bill, had it been passed, would have eliminated protection for public schools that use obscene materials for educational purposes.

Students divided into proponents and opponents of the bill and legislators to take part in a mock public hearing. They chose a chairperson for the Legislature and representatives to speak for and against the bill.

Alexis Dow, a student at Middle School of the Kennebunks, spoke in support of the bill during the mock hearing, reasoning that sexually explicit material could be hard to process as reading in school for a child who was raped.

“Do you see any positive outcomes if the bill doesn’t pass?” Hall Dale Middle School student Alivia Bennett, a member of the mock Legislature, asked Dow.

As a result of the hearing, the mock Legislature voted to amend the bill to give parents the chance to consent to letting their children be exposed to obscene material.

Kate Brogan, a lobbyist for Maine Family Planning directing the public hearing, told the girls that they should not feel as though their voices didn’t count just because they aren’t 18 years old yet.

“Your state representatives are representing you, too,” she said.

“A lot of people feel intimidated and they don’t think they have a role in this,” added lobbyist Whitney Parrish of the Maine Women’s Lobby, who led the hearing with Brogan. “These laws affect your life, too.”

Executive Director Eliza Townsend, right, speaks during the Maine Women’s Lobby’s Girls’ Day at the State House on Friday. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Girls’ Day, in its 23rd year, is meant to educate girls about the importance of civic engagement. In addition to the mock hearing, participants had the opportunity to meet representatives and Maine’s first female governor, Janet T. Mills.

Students came from around the state to take part.

“We had girls come who have never been south of Bangor,” said Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby.

The day began with an introduction to policy and advocacy. Kelli McCannell, of Hardy Girls, Healthy Women, contrasted the country’s female population with how many women serve in legislatures, star in movies or write letters to newspaper editors. She noted that women control 80 percent of spending, yet only 3 percent of advertising creative directors are female.

McCannell got a visible reaction to that, with girls realizing that advertisements they see on Instagram or TV about items for women might not be designed by women. When asked about advertising, girls thought those ads were oversexualized and too glamorous.

“As the majority of this country, we are not being represented,” McCannell said, “but yet we have to abide by all these rules and laws.”

She also gave examples of laws that she said are derogatory or unfair to women. In Montana, she told them, women can’t fish without their husbands. Buying a hat or getting a haircut without a husband’s approval were other national laws that elicited giggles and gasps.

“Knowing this, it’s not our place to bully boys at school and men in our lives,” said Natalie Emmerson, a student at Woolwich Central School. “We should inform them without attacking.”

Acadia Metzger, a student at Tremont Consolidated School on Mount Desert Island, said she was shocked to learn about laws and population figures.

“But I’m not really surprised,” she said.

McCannell also had the girls write postcards to their legislators, describing what they find important and saying they hope the lawmakers would support that. Some issues students found important included the environment, suicide prevention, homelessness, mental health awareness, drug abuse, abortion and health care.

Betty Jane Meader of Waterville, a retired professor at Thomas College, has participated in many Girls’ Day events. She said she appreciates seeing quiet girls develop a voice as they speak about what they believe.

“They gain confidence in one day,” she said.

Abigail Austin — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @AbigailAustinKJ


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