Girls State visits Independence Hall

WHEELING – Members of the Rhododendron Girls State Legislature convened for the first time at West Virginia Independence Hall Thursday, and the young lawmakers proposed legislation requiring new drivers to place an identifying sticker on their car.

The 72nd Rhododendron Girls State has been in session at Wheeling Jesuit University since Sunday, and concludes today. There are 371 young high school women from across the state attending the session – about 40 more than the number of boys attending Boys State at Jackson’s Mill near Weston, according to Rhododendron Girls State Director Michelle Sirbaugh.

During the week those at Girls State have been learning about government, politics and elections, and putting that knowledge to use by filing and running for office.

The 22 girls elected to the Senate at Girls State, and the 42 elected to the House were transported from Wheeling Jesuit to Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling Thursday. This marked the first time the Girls State citizens had convened for a session off of the Wheeling Jesuit University campus in the 18 years the school has hosted the event.

The elected lawmakers met Wednesday night to craft the proposed bills they introduced on the floor Thursday, and the measures reflected the interests and concerns of the young women.

House members debated a bill to require recently licensed youths to place a sticker on their car identifying them as a new driver.

But Senate members noted there was no provision in the bill for how long the sticker should remain on the car, and they wondered if a young motorist driving his or her parents’ car would have to have a sticker.

The Senate girls amended the bill to make the sticker voluntary and available for purchase for $1 along with a driver’s license fee.

The girls also were expected to pass a measure naming Follansbee native Betty Ray an honorary member of Girls State. Ray has spent much of her life advising high school girls at Rhododendron Girls State, but World War II kept her from attending as a participant when she was an incoming high school senior in 1943.

“She has been involved with Girls State for more than 50 years, but she was never a citizen,” said Rontina McCann, spokeswoman for Rhododendron Girls State.

Ray began as a counselor with Girls State and served as its director from 1977 to 1995. Since then, she has returned as a senior staff member.

Passage of the measure honoring Ray was kept quiet Thursday afternoon as participants and staff planned to surprise Ray during the Girls State talent show Thursday night.