“The People’s House” reigns supreme in Montana - democracy is in action every day.
Eighteen fourth-graders from Vaughn Elementary School etched their names into the history books with Governor Greg Gianforte signing HB 880 into action. HB 880 is sponsored by Montana House District 22 Representative Lola Sheldon-Galloway to name the huckleberry as Montana’s state fruit.
It gained traction when the fourth-grade class petitioned to the Montana House and the fifth-grade class took it to the Senate after it passed the house.
“They help with, cancer, diabetes, a lot of other stuff. And you can do a lot of other things with it,” said Joseph Hammond, a Vaughn fourth-grade student who lobbied for the bill.
“A small school for young kids. I think it has a big impact on what our government looks like and to know that they can carry away that we didn't have a state fruit, and because of them, we do now.” Amy Brooks, Vaughn's fourth-grade teacher explained.
The bill proposal began after Representative Sheldon-Galloway taught a government lesson to the students. The current textbook the student uses has a small section on United States Government. The students took so well to it, that it continued into proposing a bill to the Montana House and Senate. Rep. Sheldon-Galloway worked side by side with the students to ensure they met deadlines, drafted a feasible bill, and the school drove the students to Helena for their sales pitch. The experience was more than a history lesson, but was an opportunity to show students that no matter how small you may feel, your voice can be heard.
“The state should be proud that the law process could include fourth graders in it and that every citizen can be involved in the lawmaking process,” stated Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway.
As HB 880 passed both the House and Senate, Rep. Sheldon-Galloway pitched to the students to create a petition in Vaughn to have Governor Gianforte sign the bill at their school.
The students hit the ground running and Governor Gianforte made the trip.
First, the students had to deliver one last elevator pitch in front of the student body and the governor. Note, the governor can veto a bill that comes across his desk. He made a statement beforehand that the Choke Cherry and Flathead Cherry were great options as well. He needed to be persuaded.
Shaking in their boots but ready for the task, the fourth-grade legislators delivered their pitch.
With an overwhelming reaction and support from the student body, Governor Greg Gianforte signed a bill that changed the lives of not just 18 young Montanans but 1.1 million Montanans.
“Not only did they draft the bill, but they also traveled to Helena and testified in front of the House committee and the Senate committee on behalf of their bill. You heard them they’re persuasive.”
This experience has given this tenacious group of students a bug to continue inciting change.
Mrs. Brooks’ fourth-grade class is already working on its next project with the Vaughn School board, adding an extra 15 minutes of recess to their school day.
On Wednesday, May 10, 2023, the students got a visit from Governor Greg Gianforte to celebrate the announcement that huckleberries are now officially the state fruit of Montana.
House Bill 880 states: "The huckleberry, Vaccinium membranaceum, is the official state fruit."