Rep. Andy Vargas, a Haverhill Democrat who joined the House after winning a special election last year, visited the State House for the first time eight years ago as a high school student to lobby for a version of the bill. He gave his first speech as a lawmaker on civics education, and said in a statement Thursday that he hopes the bill results in more young people voting, volunteering and running for office themselves.
“We can have hopefully a lot more Rep. Vargases in the future,” said Sen. Harriette Chandler, a Worcester Democrat who sponsored the bill (S 2631).

Katie Lannan from State House News wrote the best story on this event celebrating 9 years of hard work from a feisty group of young people From UTEC who never, ever give up. in part.

Stephanie Bellapianta, a college student and member of the group Teens Leading the Way, watched as civics education measures she’d been advocating for over the past seven years officially became state law.
“It felt great,” Bellapianta said over the phone later in the day. “It felt like we were able to accomplish something huge.”

Bellapianta was among the attendees at an unannounced invitation-only bill signing in Baker’s office, where the governor approved legislation bolstering the state’s civics education requirements, establishing a high school voter challenge, and requiring public schools to provide a student-led civics project for eighth graders and high schoolers.

The project component is intended to give young people hands-on practice in how their government works, similar to the experience youth advocates — one of whom is now a state representative — gained over the years they’ve spent promoting civics education.

“This has been very important for young people such as myself because it grants us the opportunity to be actively involved and engaged within the civics process, and we know that when we are given an opportunity to do so that young people will be able to rise to the occasion, to be great citizens,” Bellapianta said.

Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, the bill’s House sponsor, said it was “worth waiting for” and that the input from different groups improved the legislation.

Thursday was the deadline for Baker to act on the bill. His public schedule for the day did not include any events related to the civics bill. And his aides did not respond to an inquiry about the bill about a half-hour before the signing, or when asked later why the media had not invited. The governor’s office often marks the signing of significant bills by inviting advocates, lawmakers and the press to be present when they are signed.

Chandler was the first to publicly disclose the signing, posting to Twitter at 1:25 p.m. Thursday from the ceremony, “It’s been signed into law!”

Education Secretary James Pesyer, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, several lawmakers, local students, and representatives of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, Media Literacy Now, Teens Leading the Way, UTEC and Generation Citizen Massachusetts were all on hand for the event, according to a press release Baker’s office sent out about an hour after the signing.

Chandler told the News Service the legislation aims to provide students with knowledge of the basics of government, then encourage them to use what they’ve learned to think critically. She pointed to the media literacy component as an example of those analytical skills.