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Tosa students' cheese bill makes its whey to Madison

March 30, 2010

State Sen. Jim Sullivan sees a lot of legislation come through Madison. One piece hits an especially tasty spot: a bill to officially name Wisconsin cheese as the state snack.

The bill has been passed unanimously by the agricultural committee and awaits a floor vote.

"This is a bill that all began as an idea of fourth-graders at St. Joe's School in Wauwatosa," said Sullivan, a Democrat from Wauwatosa.

In 2006, students in Mary Hartl's fourth grade class were studying government when the idea came up.

"Our fourth grade class was studying symbols in the blue book and we noticed there wasn't a state snack. I decided it would be a great idea for the kids to experience how a bill becomes a law," Hartl said.

The students set their sights on naming cheese as the state snack.

"Cheese is just so important to Wisconsin," said Jacob Heinen, one of Hartl's former students. "Everyone knows Wisconsin cheese."

The school year ended before students could complete their project so Hartl's fourth-graders the following year picked up where their predecessors had left off. The information was submitted to the Senate and for quite some time the students heard nothing.

"It kept getting put off because of important issues like the budget," Hartl said.

The students, now seventh- and eighth-graders, have only this school year left together at St. Joe's and began to push for the Senate to discuss their bill.

Though she has since retired, Hartl also remains involved in the process.

"About every two weeks I e-mail Senator Sullivan's office and see how far we're getting and kind of just keep it in their minds," she said.

Sullivan said he doesn't need much of a reminder.

"I'd love to see this pass, it'd be a nice thing for the kids," he said. He complimented them on how involved they've remained in the process, some even going as far as testifying before the agricultural committee.

Their work, Sullivan said, serves as an example for other Wisconsin students learning about government.

"It's been helpful to more than St. Joe's kids . . . ," he said. "They did this wonderful map and I've brought it to dozens of other fourth grade classes as an example of how you can petition your government."

Sullivan said he hopes the bill will reach the Senate floor and proceed to the Assembly by April 22. Having their snack bill move forward would be a treat for the students at St. Joe's, especially those moving on to high school, Hartl said.

"We're assuming it will pass," she said. "It's been a long time and the kids are really, really excited."

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