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Brewster addresses students

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 1:11 a.m.
High school students William Gadson and Sydney Garbin talk with state Sen. James R. Brewster during a Friday student government seminar at Penn State Greater Allegheny in McKeesport.

Students from eight school districts received a hands-on lesson on what it's like to be a state senator, thanks to a seminar at Penn State Greater Allegheny on Friday.

About 59 youths from Boyce Campus Middle College High School, Burrell, Highlands, McKeesport Area, Plum, South Allegheny and Woodland Hills high schools and Springdale Junior/Senior High School met with local legislators, lobbyists and business leaders.

The event at the McKeesport campus was organized by state Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport.

“We really enjoy the seminar because we get a lot of young people,” Brewster said. “I have 14 school districts in my district, and it's really nice to see the interaction between those students. They are so bright and have such great futures ahead of them.”

Brewster said issues like a transportation bill, foreign policy, and domestic terrorism will have an impact on their lives. “They'll have more of an affect on them than they will on people my age ... All these things are going to be in their life for a long, long time to come. I think it's interesting to get their opinions, their assessments of what's going on. They reflect what their families do. They reflect their school district and the communities they're from.”

Students learned from the panelists how government works before being split into Democrats, Republicans and Independent/other voters. They later gathered for a mock Senate session to debate and vote on a fake bill about Internet anonymity.

“It's really helpful because it's going to help me for the future,” said Burrell senior Karen Eberle. “Even if I don't go into politics, I still have a better understanding of how my country works. It makes me feel better as a citizen ... I'm going to take back the idea that even if you're part of a party, that doesn't mean you always agree with the party.”

Brewster's staff drafted the practice legislation. Fake Senate Bill 123 requires persons posting comments on Internet websites to post identifying information, and requires removal of comments posted anonymously.

The bill, referred to as the Internet Posting Removal Act, states, “a website administrator, upon request, shall remove any comments posted by an anonymous poster on a website for which the website administrator is responsible unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the posted message and confirms that his or her internet protocol address, legal name, and home address are accurate.”

It failed by a vote of 29 opposed and 21 in favor. Students from Plum High School left prior to the vote due to an early dismissal.

McKeesport Area High School junior and Democrat representative William Gadson argued for the bill, citing cyber bullying, the impact of anonymous negative postings about businesses, and laws against slander.

“I feel it's an eye-opener, truthfully,” said Gadson. “I really wasn't into government as much as I am today. You really don't know how much you really need to know to get involved in all this. You can get into different topics and different aspects of both sides. You have friends that are Republicans, friends that are Democrats. Coming to something like this broadens your horizons a little bit.

“You always have a voice in whatever you say. That's something (the panelists) stressed a lot,” Gadson said. “No matter what the topic is you always have a voice. You can always make a stand in what you believe in.”

Peter Brucker, a senior from Woodland Hills High School, represented the Republican party during the session and opposed the bill.

He argued the bill would be unfeasible to enforce, and it was unjust for Pennsylvania to try to regulate the World Wide Web.

“It was quite a very nice experience,” Peter said. “It feels great. I've been wanting to enter politics for a long time now. I know (this) is not the real thing, but I still enjoyed it. It's like when you're a little kid and you get a toy car and then you get the real thing.”

Brewster said he'd be in favor of legislation that would at least put a real name to an online post.

“I think when you can go on to a social network and slander somebody without having to put your name down is a disgrace and should be illegal,” he said. “If I have my way it will be. That's not freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is whenever you can say what you want to say anywhere to anybody, but I know who you are. I consider these (anonymous posts) a threat to people's lives ... If you have something to say, put your name down and say what you want to say. That way I can come find you and I get to exercise my freedom of speech. Seems fair to me.”

Penn State Greater Allegheny enrollment management officer Sarah Ma and student aid coordinator Shannon Butler-Edmonds spoke with students and handed out school materials.

“We're lucky to be able to host students who wouldn't normally come to the campus,” Ma said. “Just to have a look and get a feel for it, hopefully they feel it's as friendly as we think it is.”

Brewster conducted the event two years ago on the topic of vouchers. The seminar was not conducted last year due to state budget cuts. The program was initiated by former state Sen. Sean Logan.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or

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