photo of Gov. Culver and Sean Bagniewski
Law student Sean Bagniewski chats with Gov. Chet Culver after the bill signing.

Law students shepherd children’s rights bills through

Five Drake University law students appear to have a bright
future as lobbyists and legislators, thanks to the experience they gained in
lobbying for children’s rights in the Iowa Legislature this session.

The students drafted five bills, recruited sponsors,
attended subcommittee meetings, secured constituent support and lobbied
legislators as they shepherded the measures through the legislature.

Three of the five bills passed unanimously in both the House
and Senate. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, GR’94, signed two of those bills into law at a
private signing ceremony on Tuesday. He is expected to sign the third bill at a
later date.

“This is an incredible success — having three bills
pass unanimously in both houses of the legislature,” said Jerry Foxhoven,
director of the Middleton Center for Children’s Rights at Drake Law School.
“I know this has been a tremendous learning experience for these students,
and their work will have a positive impact on Iowa youth for years to

The bills signed by Gov. Culver expand children’s rights in
the following ways:

  • House
    File 2338 requires that a court determine if a child’s failure to appear
    during a Child in Need of Assistance proceeding is due to a failure to
    notify the child, if appropriate. This bill is designed to encourage the
    attendance of children at proceedings that may determine their future,
    when appropriate.

  • Senate
    File 2340 requires the Iowa Department of Human Services or its designee
    to obtain a certified birth certificate for a child subject to an
    out-of-home placement by the time the child is 18 and facilitate the
    procurement of a federal Social Security card for that child. Many foster
    children don’t have certified birth certificates or Social Security cards,
    which makes it difficult for them to enroll in school and obtain jobs.

The third bill, awaiting the governor’s signature, is Senate
File 2364. This bill allows a minor who is at least 16, is a resident of Iowa
and not in the care of the state to petition for emancipation.

The need for these bills was identified by the Middleton
Center in cooperation with Elevate, an organization devoted to helping foster

Then five students in Drake’s Legal Practice Center,
supervised by faculty members Julie Smith and Larry Pope, took up the cause on
behalf of the Middleton Center and its clients. In addition to the help they
received from faculty, the students gained support from United Way of Central
Iowa, which provided an advocacy grant of $10,000.

News Photo
Drake law students and members of Elevate surround Gov. Chet Culver at the signing ceremony.

The law students — Sean Bagniewski, Kendra Boatright, Amber
Juffer, Karin McDougal and Justin Wolff — crowded around Gov. Culver’s desk
for the bill signing. They were joined by several members of Elevate as well as
Drake faculty, leaders of United Way and two legislators.

Sen. Keith Kreiman and Rep. Kurt Swaim, both Democrats from
Bloomfield, Iowa, praised the students and the legislation they worked so hard
to have enacted.

“Whenever there’s legislation proposed by the Middleton
Center, we know it makes a lot of sense and will help a lot of kids,”
Kreiman said.

Roshonique Bouyer, a 16-year-old foster child from Des
Moines and a member of Elevate, agreed. “It’s a blessing that these bills
passed,” she said.

The law students welcomed the opportunity to gain real-world
experience in politics.

“Lobbying for the Middleton Center for Children’s
Rights has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Bagniewski,
president of the Drake Student Bar Association. “It gave each student an
opportunity to write a piece of legislation and then to work elbow-to-elbow
with leaders in the state legislature to try to pass it.

“This provided a fascinating view of our government at
work and gave us all a deeper respect for the law-making process,” he
added. “Most importantly, we were able to meet with the youth who will
benefit from our legislation. The appreciation they expressed made all those
extra hours in the committee rooms worthwhile.”

Boatright, another law student, said she was grateful to
have the opportunity to be a lobbyist, not just shadow a lobbyist.

“This experience has provided me with a better
education than I could ever hope to receive sitting in a classroom,” she
added. “Plus, it was nice to be able to show people that lobbyists can do
positive work.”