Features: Hands-On Experience

Policy and Legislation Society sponsors competition that lets students draft bill proposals—some of which have become state laws

Monday, November 29, 2021
Isaac Hagerbaumer

By Patrick McDonnell

Many law school students say they want to get involved in shaping the law and helping the community. But the members of the Policy and Legislation Society (PALS) at the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law are taking this premise quite literally.

The three-year-old student organization’s Making the Law competition crafts not just ideas, but actual legislation: Three bills created with PALS input were passed by the 2021 Legislature and signed into law by Governor Steve Sisolak.

The inaugural competition, which was organized by founding PALS President Radhika Kunnel, took place in October 2020. The first-of-its-kind contest in the United States begins when PALS students learn how to create bill draft requests (BDRs). Those requests then go to an anonymous committee, which reviews the material and selects the top eight. Those students who make the cut then present the proposed bills in mock committee hearings before actual legislators.

Legislators are both part of the hearing and act as judges. They ask the competitors questions about the BDR, as a legislative committee would do. Following the presentations, legislators judge the competitors’ overall efforts, including the quality of the BDRs.

“You have to be able to read the law and understand the law,” says Isaac Hagerbaumer, a 3L student and 2021-22 PALS president. “Then you learn how to present.”

Nevada legislators and attorneys have been among those who have judged the competition, including such UNLV Boyd Law alums as Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (part of the school’s first graduating class) and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (a 2010 graduate). Other notables who have taken part in the mock committee hearings include Assemblywomen Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod and Rochelle Nguyen (a 2002 graduate), and Clark County Commissioners Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Tick Segerblom. Hagerbaumer also notes that Dr. David Orentlicher, a UNLV Boyd professor who was a freshman Assemblyman this year and who serves as PALS’ faculty adviser, also has been extremely important to the organization’s success.

Jorge “Coco” Padilla, a 3L student who submitted a BDR providing pro bono immigration-related legal services, won the inaugural competition. Padilla’s entry turned into Assembly Bill 376, which came to be known as the Keep Nevada Working Act (See Page 8). On June 11, Sisolak signed AB 376 into law, which among other things allocates $500,000 in state funds to UNLV Boyd’s Immigration Clinic over two years. 

Two other 3L students, Karyna Armstrong and Sebastian Ross, took second place behind Padilla with a BDR that focused on name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules for Nevada collegiate athletes. Their proposal eventually turned into Assembly Bill 254, which permits student-athletes to enter into third-party endorsement contracts without losing their amateur athletic status.  

Additionally, 3L student and PALS member Gabrielle Boliou worked with Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy on a BDR that removes the statute of limitations for sex trafficking offenses. Boliou’s entry made it to the semifinals of the 2020 Making the Law competition. 

The second Making the Law competition took place in March, with 3L student Kelsey DeLozier taking home first place for her work expanding adoptive parents’ rights. DeLozier’s BDR changed the definition of surrogacy, protecting “the parental rights of intended parents in a traditional surrogacy arrangement,” according to the Legislative Digest from her bill request.

During this academic year, PALS plans to host events discussing two new bills that will impact Nevada’s criminal justice system.
“I would like to see PALS be a platform for students to pursue careers forming legislation and to maybe even become legislators,” Hagerbaumer says, adding that cultivating relationships is critical. “We would like to educate the legal and law school community on these impacts and connect students with the legislators that drafted and got those bills passed.”

Hagerbaumer stresses person-to-person connection as a key to PALS’ success—and he knows from experience, as he interned for Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson this past summer. During the internship, Hagerbaumer asked Wolfson, “What do you think is the most important thing to litigating cases in Las Vegas?”

“He said, ‘In general, litigating cases takes fostering good relationships with everyone around you,’” Hagerbaumer says. “This is important because it emphasizes if you want to practice law successfully, you aren’t doing it alone. You need to collaborate and sometimes receive help from those around you.”