University of Kentucky junior Chase Hieneman is doing more than just answering phones and copying documents as an intern for Kentucky Senate President David Williams in the General Assembly.
Hieneman helped craft a bill that would increase student representation on the governing boards of state universities and testified for the legislation last month during a committee meeting. The bill passed the full Senate, 35-0, on Feb. 18 and has been assigned to the House Education Committee.
"I've probably learned more ... than I would ever learn in my classroom," Hieneman said. "Hopefully it will provide me with the opportunity to jump into a job market that's not too terribly friendly to recent college graduates and give me an edge."
At Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, instructor Julya Westfall sent her senior-level occupational science students to advocate for nursing home reform bills in Frankfort as part of a research and advocacy class.
Before the project, "none of them knew how laws are made in this country," much less how they could personally influence the process, Westfall said.
They were fast learners, she said.
The group met with Bernie Vonderheide, founder of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, and researched three bills, including two that would increase minimum staffing levels at nursing homes and would require criminal background checks for all nursing home employees.
Then they went to Frankfort and talked to lawmakers.
Student Abby Oelker of Bowling Green said she found State Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, "attentive" and somewhat surprised that college students armed with research were advocating bills.
After meeting with Sen. Kenneth Winters, R-Murray, Valerie Miller of Campbell County said she decided she could see herself advocating for legislation after graduation.
"Now that we have experience, we feel like we can do it again," Miller said.
Chelsea Duff of Berea said she showed Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, a package of materials — including photos — that explained how quickly residents develop pressure sores and how serious they can become. During meetings, the EKU students said lawmakers had a pointed question for them: "How much is this going to cost?"
Back in Richmond, they're continuing their research by assisting nursing home activity directors and working with residents. Next, they will explore how elderly people can be cared for in their own homes and how nursing home environments can be improved.
Meanwhile, at a Feb. 17 hearing before the Senate Education Committee, Hieneman was persuasive in explaining his bill, which was sponsored by Williams, R-Burkesville.
Senate Bill 20 allows student body vice presidents to sit as additional, non-voting members of public university boards. They would join the one student body president who now serves on each board.
The legislation would expand student representation on the Kentucky Community Technical College System Board of Regents from two to four, with the additional members serving in a non-voting capacity.
Hieneman told Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, he knew of no opposition to the bill. And he told the legislative panel he didn't think one student could adequately represent the views of thousands.
Williams said in a statement that Hieneman "ably testified," in addition to helping draft the bill. As part of his internship, Hieneman also is reviewing bills, researching issues, monitoring legislation and helping with news releases.
"During the last few sessions, in order to engage our interns in the legislative process, I've directed our interns to propose a bill idea," Williams said. "I was pleased to see his diligence and enthusiasm during the development and eventual passage of the bill."
The ongoing lawmaking session is the third that Hieneman has worked for Williams and the Senate Republican Caucus. He also worked for them in the 2009 special session and in the 2010 regular session. He then went to Washington to intern for Sen. Mitch McConnell and later completed an internship in the British House of Commons.
Hieneman, a political science and management major at the University of Kentucky, is a resident of Worthington in Greenup County and a 2008 graduate of Raceland-Worthington High School.
He said the Senate's willingness to approve his proposal and send it to the House is "a positive step forward."
Now, he said, "we are just keeping an eye on the House."