Apr 28, 2014
08:37 AM
The Connecticut Story

Students in Civics Class Craft Legislation to Limit Smoking in Cars

Students in Civics Class Craft Legislation to Limit Smoking in Cars

Peter Hvizdak/New Haven Register

Austin Kane, Jen Ongley, Bill Brown, Mike Mrino and Doug Wu, Daniel Hand High School seniors of Madison.

 Soon after Peter Nye’s spring senior civics class commenced at Daniel Hand High School, he knew the conventional approach wasn’t going to cut it.

When Nye started teaching the group, he quickly realized the traditional textbook training wasn’t going to keep the attention of these “impressive” college-bound seniors.

“It did start off the old-fashioned way and once I got to know them,” Nye said, “I got a sense that they needed something more.”

As the temptation to succumb to senioritis reached its peak, with graduation looming in June, Nye’s class morphed from traditional civics instruction into a crash course in real-world policy-making where students sought to craft and pass “common sense” legislation through the state legislature.

Earlier this month, the class started to put together a bill that would ban smoking in a car with children who fall under the car seat threshold—less than 6 years old or under 60 pounds.

The students are essentially melding an existing law in Oregon and proposed legislation in Connecticut that wasn’t brought to a vote.

Read the 2013 Proposed Bill No. 5380, "An Act Prohibiting Smoking in Motor Vehicles with Minor Children," here.

Testimony from state Rep. Henry Genga, D-10, who introduced the bill. 

Previously, the proposed law didn’t generate a wide range of support here, in part because some people thought it was a civil rights violation, the students said. In order to combat that, the students plan to emphasize that it would be a secondary offense, meaning that the driver could not be cited unless the vehicle has already been stopped for another offense.

The class cited as inspiration the experience of a teacher who witnessed a child cancer patient sitting in the back of a car while the boy’s mother smoked.

Throughout the process of crafting the bill and generating support for it, Nye said he has treated his classroom as a meeting space — or “war room” — to let students explore all aspects of pushing legislation.

“This is as authentic as it gets,” said Nye, 41.

Mike Marino, one of Nye’s students, said the class has been a success because it taught the course in a way that gave students real-world experience.

“What he wanted actually happened in that we learned all about passing bill on a state level,” said Marino, 18. “We learned a lot more so than the average person would.”

“We have a really good feel for the ins and outs of getting it done now and how you would go about it,” added Bill Brown, 17.

For the full story and more from the New Haven Register, read here. 


Students in Civics Class Craft Legislation to Limit Smoking in Cars

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