By Christian Wright
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Michele Ferrel’s fourth-grade class made history Tuesday, turning their class project to make the striped bass the state saltwater fish a reality.
The House of Delegates, in an 80-16 vote, passed Senate Bill 940, which designates the striped bass as the state saltwater fish.
The class, from Spratley Gifted Center in Hampton, testified before the Senate and the House earlier in the session to pass the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News.
“They were so excited when they heard the news,” Ferrel said. “They jumped out of their seats when they heard.”
Ferrel’s class, however, was almost dealt a blow right before the vote when Delegate Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, proposed an amendment to the bill.
The amendment would have changed the state saltwater fish from striped bass to menhaden.
Delegate Miller argued that because of the menhaden’s importance to the Virginia economy and its use in a lot of everyday items, it deserves recognition before the bass.
“Menhaden is used by farmers for feed, crab fishermen for bait, and pharmacists in making Omega-3 pills,” Delegate Miller said. “It’s a part of our state heritage.”
The amendment, however, failed by one vote to pass. The House voted 48 to 49 not to adopt the amendment.
The bill became the class project for Ferrel’s class thanks to the Coastal Conservation Association of Virginia.
Originally, the Coastal Conservation Association of Virginia approached Sen. Miller to see if he could sponsor the bill about striped bass.
“I told them I don’t sponsor these types of bills, but if you could get an elementary school class to do it, then I will,” Sen. Miller said.
Sen. Miller wanted the students to learn about the legislative process and what it takes to get a bill to become a law.
“As part of my sponsoring this bill, I required the class had to do the research, write to legislators and testify about the bill,” Sen. Miller said.
Ferrel’s class decided to take up the offer. The students met with Sen. Miller in the fall and got to work.
They learned about the striped bass’ decline in population, and the steps that would need to be taken to raise the population. They also learned about the history of the fish.
“The colonists placed a tax on the bass to help finance the first schools in the state,” Ferrel said.
Now, the bill waits for Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature to become law. Sen. Miller hopes the bill-signing ceremony will be done with Ferrel’s class during school.
“It’d be a great way to celebrate this occasion,” Sen. Miller said.