The originators of HF1657, a bill introduced in the waning days of the 2011 legislative session, met with a pair of area lawmakers Thursday for high-level discussions on the measure.
The legislators were Sen. Peggy Scott and Rep. Michelle Benson, both of Andover. The forces behind the legislation were fresh-faced constituents: students at Andover Elementary School.
The bill they're promoting seeks to make the black bear the Minnesota state mammal.
The students are current and former first-graders from teacher Dana Coleman's class. Last year's first-graders, now elder statespersons, got the legislative ball rolling after studying about black bears living in Ely, Minn. This year's class will keep the effort going.
History suggests that the students face an uphill task. Although Minnesota has a number of official symbols -- including a state bird , a state butterfly, even a state muffin -- it doesn't have a state animal, despite previous efforts at the Legislature. According to the legislative website, bills proposing the white-tailed deer as the state mammal/animal have been offered at least eight times, and the eastern timber wolf has come up at least six times. The 13-lined ground squirrel also has had its proponents.
But the Andover students have shown a certain political savvy: They've gotten bipartisan support, something noticeably elusive at the Capitol recently. The original sponsors of the bill were Sen. Barb Goodwin and Rep. Carolyn Laine, both DFLers from Columbia Heights. Sen. Scott and Rep. Benson, who are picking up the baton, are Republicans.
The class has launched an online petition drive to show support for the effort, and they're seeking help from other school districts. Coleman said the hope is to have a hearing on the legislation be held at the school.
Back to those official symbols: The state bird is the loon; the butterfly is the monarch; and the muffin? It's the blueberry. And don't forget the state fruit, the Honeycrisp apple.