2009-05-14 / Local & State

Kids Win Vote In Bid To Make Turtle Pa.'s Reptile

By MARK SCOLFORO ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A fourth-grade class' campaign to designate the Eastern box turtle the state's official reptile took a slow, deliberate, tentative step forward Tuesday with a positive vote in the state House of Representatives.

About two-dozen students from Glenside Elementary School in the Philadelphia suburbs were on hand to watch the House vote 177-17 to have the species of turtle join whitetail deer, ruffed grouse, Great Dane and the firefly as symbols of the Keystone State.

The students' interest in box turtles dates to September, when they learned about the challenges they face, from shrinking habitat and the wages of pollution to predators and the everpresent danger from vehicles.

Before long they were mapping the population, writing a story about the species and learning about what happened when a shipment of rubber turtles was accidentally dumped into the Pacific Ocean.

"It just evolved in a class discussion, and we started from there," said teacher Linda Jephson.

Rep. Lawrence Curry, DMontgomery, took up their cause and introduced a bill, while the students besieged state lawmakers with letters and postcards soliciting support.

When a state senator and state representative showed up at a soccer field where 9-year-old classmates Bradley Graul and Jack McHugh were playing, the boys seized the occasion to do some lobbying - getting commitments for two votes.

"It feels really good," McHugh said Tuesday after the vote, adding thanks to Curry. "He cares about children. He kept it going."

There was some drama on the floor Tuesday, when Rep. Garth Everett proposed tabling the proposal until after the budget gets passed.

One of his constituents, a fifth-grader at Ferrell Elementary School in Picture Rocks, had asked to have the rattlesnake considered for the honor.

Everett, R-Lycoming, said he didn't have anything against box turtles but felt there were more important matters the General Assembly should rather be attending to.

"For people who say there are more important things to do, there is nothing more important than educating our kids," Jephson said.

Curry asked fellow legislators "whether you'd like to cuddle up to a rattlesnake or a turtle," and Everett's maneuver was defeated 152-43.

The measure was sent to the state Senate, where Graul has a plan to get it passed: "Get everybody on our side and hopefully they'll just vote for us."

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