Drake Law excels at allowing students to engage in practical experience that cannot be taught in a classroom. One program unique to Drake Law is the Legislative Practice Certificate Program. The program gives Drake Law students a first-hand look at the legislative process in Iowa. One student not only glimpsed the mechanisms of law-making during this past 2014 session, but helped shape policy in Iowa.
Matt Blake is a 2L from South Dakota who chose to attend Drake Law because of the Legislative Practice Program. Matt has worked in politics at various levels for several years, but had a desire to sharpen his skills with a legal education.
“I knew I always wanted to go to law school, but very few schools offered programs tailored to my interest in government and politics in the Midwest” says Blake. “When I learned of Drake’s legislative program, I knew I found the school suited for furthering my future career.”
Participants in the Drake Law Legislative Practice Certificate Program have a unique curriculum starting their second year of law school. During the year, students take a class to teach them about the legislative process in the fall and are assigned to intern for an Iowa state legislator in the spring.
Blake was assigned to State Senator Bob Dvorsky for his internship. Senator Dvorsky is a respected legislator and chair of the influential appropriations committee.
“On my first day, Senator Dvorsky handed me a folder and said I would be working on human trafficking,” says Blake. “I had no prior experience on the subject, so I went to work educating myself on the topic. I learned that Iowa was not immune to human trafficking and that it is a growing problem nationwide.”
Blake spent the first two weeks of his legislative internship pouring over the laws of Iowa and different model laws created by advocacy groups.
“I created a list of ‘plausible’ changes to the code. Many model codes wanted changes that would be impossible to pass in a split legislature like Iowa’s. When I finished my initial research, I brought my list of ‘plausible’ changes to a meeting of three senators, a potential house sponsor, and the senate judicial committee’s legal analyst. Needless to say, I was nervous being thrown head first into the legislative process.”
The meeting was only the first step.
“I was very fortunate to have the Senate Democratic Research staff keep me involved at every step of the process. Especially Cathy Engel, the Senate judicial committee’s legal analyst. She made sure that I attended every meeting. I met with the Attorney General’s office, the bill drafter, and different advocates to help create a workable human trafficking bill.”
The bill Blake helped to create passed the Senate unanimously.
“It was an incredible feeling to have something you worked so hard on pass so overwhelmingly.”
The ecstatic feeling was short lived, however. The House judiciary took out many key provisions from the bill. Senator Dvorsky was undeterred. He was passionate about the issue and wanted to see strong protections put in place. The Senator, Cathy Engel, and Blake held a meeting and decided to put all the provisions back in the bill and fight for the Senate version.
Fortunately, the House agreed to the changes and the Senate version of the human trafficking bill passed unanimously. Blake was invited to attend the bill signing with Governor Terry Branstad.
“Senator Dvorsky was positioned right behind Governor Branstad during the ceremony. The Senator made sure I stood right next to him the entire time. It was pretty cool watching the Governor sign into law a bill I helped create. I owe a lot to Senator Dvorsky and Cathy Engel for allowing me the opportunity to work on such an important issue.”
None of these experiences could have happened without the Drake Legislative Practice Certificate Program.
“If not for Drake Law, I would never have had the opportunity to work with Senator Dvorsky. I am thankful that Drake Law puts such a high priority on giving students opportunities to practice. I look forward to next year when I get to intern for a lobbyist and see the other side of the legislative process!”