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2017 Middle School Congress Legislation

2017 Middle School Congress Legislation

Full Middle School Congress Legislation

P-1 ……….A Bill to Eliminate Algorithmic Discrimination

An “algorithm” is simply a “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer” (Google definitions).  Algorithmic discrimination occurs when some of the foundations of that algorithm, such as basing income projections or loan repayment likelihood, on a zip code, end up discrimination against a particular class of individuals.  As more and more data is collected on individuals and as computers become more involved in decision-making, such discrimination is arguably expanding. In fact, it is difficult to  find evidence that says it is not expanding.

Of course, coming up with a solution is much more complicated. This bill suggests punishing entities whose us of algorithmic discrimination has a disproportionate impact on a set of people.  “Disproportionate impact” simply tests whether or not the policy has an unfair impact on a class of people, rather then whether or not the policy directly discriminates and/or intends to discriminate against the group.  This is a serious proposal in the literature on algorithmic discrimination and there is a separate body of literature available on whether or not policies that have a  “disproportionate impact” should prohibited.

The file includes evidence about the problem of  algorithmic discrimination as well as the difficulties of implementing a “disproportionate impact” standard.

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P-2 ……….A Bill Requiring Middle School Students to Take a Career Exploration Course

It is useful for all students to think about what careers they may be interested in when they are in school. There is strong evidence that suggests that middle school is the place to do it because understanding what one wants to do before one gets into high school is important to staying engaged in high school.

At a conceptual level the idea behind the bill is a good one, but one weakness is that most of the literature does not propose a separate career exploration course. What is mostly proposed is integrating career exploration into regular classes, coupling general instruction in the area with special guest speaker, additional activities, and field trips.

Evidence that speaks to the importance of career exploration in middle school as well as suggestions for alternatives to offering a specific course are included.

P-3 ……….A Resolution to Engage China on Human Rights

The current state of the human right situation in China is one of perpetual debate, and so has the question of how the US should “engage” China with the goal of improving human rights.

One difficulty with the concept of “engagement” is that it can include both positive (offerings of more trade, generally) and negative (trade penalties, generally), incentives. These positive and negative incentives are usually coupled with different forms of diplomatic pressure (again, both positive and negative). This presents difficulties for evaluating this legislation because the legislation doesn’t take any position on what type of pressure that we should use to engage China.

Given the ambiguity of the legislation, we included evidence about the workability of different types of pressure as well as the state of the human rights situation in China.  Depending on how the details of the bill are articulated in the session, Congressional debaters should be prepared to respond to the different approaches with the evidence that is in the files.

P-4 ……….A Resolution to Condemn Chinese Sanctions to Protect North Korean Human Rights and International Security

This bill is a bit difficult to produce a file on because I haven’t seen any advocacy for reducing pressure that China is applying on North Korea with sanctions. In fact, since US sanctions are already quite substantial and China is North Korea’s largest trading partner, most literature says that the only hope of preventing China from testing another nuclear weapon and developing a ballistic missile (that could then be mated with a nuclear warhead) that could reach the US is through tougher Chinese sanctions. If the North is successful in either of these endeavors, the US may attack it, making the alternative to sanctions  war…

There is, of course, general evidence that sanctions hurt individual citizens, particularly the poor, by depriving them of needed goods and hurting the economy, but in the contact of China’s sanctions on North Korea, there is good evidence that this isn’t happening based on the how the sanctions are designed.

So, generally speaking, in the release there is a lot of strong evidence against this bill.

P-5 ……….A Bill to Replace and Upgrade Our Infrastructure to Provide Clean Drinking Water for America

It is easy to find evidence that the water infrastructure in the US needs improving.  The problem is that given the size of the problem that it would be a very costly endeavor. It is unlikely that even the enormous amount of funding proposed in the bill could fix the identified problem.  Also, water infrastructure is generally a state and local matter, so it may make more sense for this to be pursed at a different level of government.

There is evidence in the release that covers the extent of the problem, the enormous costs of fixing it, and suggestions for different levels of government addressing the problem.

P-6 ……….Cuba Embargo Resolution

The US has had a pretty comprehensive trade embargo on Cuba since the 1970s.  Additional trade sanctions (penalties/barriers to trade) were added in the 1990s and early 2000s, but some of restrictions were relaxed at the end of the Obama administration.  Trump is considering reversing that opening.

There are strong arguments on both sides of the debate, though I think more arguments favor lifting the embargo than retaining it.

The Cuba embargo was the February Public Forum resolution, so we do have more evidence and resources on the topic than what is normally available.  There is a comprehensive file available for both sides of the topic as well as a video, an introductory essay, and an annotated (there is a brief note about what is available in each source) bibliography.



Intro essay

Annotated bibliography

P-7 ……….The Death with Dignity Act of 2017

This piece of legislation provides a pathway to make it legal to support assisted suicide — suicide for people who are struggling with painful, terminal medical conditions. It is a bill that is frequently proposed in Congressional Debate and I added a file that has some arguments you can use.

Related: Adolescents and autonomous medical choices

P-8 ……….A Bill to Combat Drug Trafficking by Encouraging Alternative Development Crops

The idea behind “alternative development crops” (otherwise known as “crop substitution”) is simple — if local farmers can make money growing regular crops they will  be less likely to grow crops that can be used to make drugs, particularly cocoa.

While this is a good idea in theory, there are a few problems with it — they can make more money growing the drug crops, there aren’t well-developed markets for the alternative crops, and drug traffickers kill/threaten to kill those who switch to alternative crops. There is even evidence that providing financial support for alternative crops encourages farmers to switch to growing crops that can be used for drugs in order to get the financial incentives to switch again.

There is evidence included on both sides of the debate, but I think the Con evidence is stronger.

P-9 ……….A Bill to Increase Economic Collaboration with Russia

Providing research support for this bill is difficult because the bill proposes eliminating sanctions (economic penalties) on Russia in exchange for Russia reducing its nuclear arsenal by 30%. This is difficult to research for two reasons.

One, no one in the “real world’ proposes this, so there aren’t articles discussing it. There are sanctions on Russia that were implemented in response to its aggression in the Ukraine, but no one has proposed sanctioning Russia to get it to reduce its nuclear arsenal.

Two, Russia would never, ever agree to this.

The best we can do is research that covers both sides of the sanctions debate. One file has pro and con arguments on existing sanctions and the other has evidence on the pros and cons of new sanctions on Russia.  You will need to do your best to adapt this evidence/these arguments to your topic.

P-10 ……..A Bill to Limit the Sources of Financial Entities Contributing to United States Election Campaigns

This Bill would limit any foreign source of financial contributions to United States government office election campaigns.

The problem with this bill is that foreign financial contributions to US elections are already prohibited:

Federal election law forbids political candidates from knowingly soliciting, accepting or receiving donations from foreign nationals or foreign entities under any circumstances. A candidate need not have direct knowledge that the source is foreign to be in violation of the law. It suffices for the candidate to be “aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to inquire whether the source of the funds solicited, accepted or received is a foreign national” and have “failed to conduct a reasonable inquiry.” (Huffington Post)

Sometimes, as noted in the Huffington Post article, the lobbyists that foreign companies and governments hire make contributions to political campaigns, but these contributions  are made by the lobbyists and the lobbyists are US citizens. There is nothing in the Bill that addresses this circumvention mechanism.

The Supreme Court has also acted to interpret existing law to clearly ban these contributions:

In a terse four words, the Supreme Court on Monday issued an order upholding prohibitions against foreigners making contributions to influence American elections. The decision clamped shut an opening that some thought the court had created two years ago in its Citizens United decision, when it relaxed campaign-finance limits on corporations and labor unions. On Monday the Supreme Court, upholding a lower court’s decision in Bluman, et al., v. Federal Election Commission, refused to extend its reasoning in Citizens United to cover foreigners living temporarily here. Foreign nationals, other than lawful permanent residents, are completely banned from donating to candidates or parties, or making independent expenditures in federal, state or local elections. (New York Times)

Given the fact that these contributions are already banned, we did not do more work on the legislation.

P-11 ……..A Bill to Make All Public Universities Free

This bill proposes making all public (state run) universities free for everyone.

While there is a good discussion about the general idea in the literature, advocates of the proposal are really arguing that public universities should be free for those who have financial need. If they were simply free for everyone, public universities would lose an important source of revenue from those who can pay, there would be a run on enrollment at public universities (both undermining private universities and actually making it more difficult for students of more limited economic means (who tend, as a group, to have lower test scores and grades) to be admitted to such public universities.

So while the general case for free public education is strong, a better bill would be to limit the option to those that have financial need.

Related: Free Community College —

P-12 ……..A Bill to Reduce Costs to Make Health Care More Accessible to All

This bill proposes making health care more accessible to all by funding “alternative” health therapies such as acupuncture and natural herbs and other exercises. While interesting, alternative medicine is heavily criticized in the literature as not having any scientific basis and threatening the the treatment regiments of traditional approaches.

Most of the research I came across was negative, so most of the evidence in the file takes that approach.

Background reading: Medicine with a side of mysticism: Top hospitals promote unproven therapies  and The Evolution of Alternative Medicine 



P-13 ……..A Bill to Overturn Heller vs DC

Heller v. DC is a significant Supreme Court case because it held (on a 5-4 decision) that the Second Amendment, which generally protects gun ownership, protects the right to own a hand-gun for self-defense purposes, making it difficult for states and localities that want to limit hand gun ownership to do so.

This debate made up a previous Lincoln-Douglas debate topic, and the individual who proposed it was likely a L-D debater.

Our extensive collection of resources from that topic is included.


P-14 ……..A Bill to Provide an Infrastructural Stimulus Package

This bill, which provides $1 trillion to improve our nation’s infrastructure, is similar to  the Trump plan:

President Donald Trump is launching a major push for a $1 trillion overhaul of the nation’s roads and bridges, a key item on his agenda that’s been stymied in Congress and overshadowed by White House controversies. Trump plans a series of events this coming week to highlight his effort to modernize American infrastructure — the highway, waterway, electrical and airway systems on which the nation operates. His campaign for public and private funding for the projects is expected to run from the White House, where he’ll speak about upgrading air traffic control, to Ohio on inland waterways and through meetings with mayors, governors and Transportation Department officials. (Albany Times Union, June 3, 2017)

The big difference is that the submitted legislation provides full federal government funding for the $1 trillion instead of $200 billion, leveraging the rest with investments from the private sector

As part of its 2018 budget proposal, the Trump administration has introduced a plan to improve the nation’s infrastructure. The administration intends to reduce regulatory barriers on infrastructure projects and encourage greater private investment. It has also proposed increasing federal spending on infrastructure by $200 billion over 10 years. (Chris Edwards, June 2)

Edwards continues to note that minimal federal support, regulatory reform, and leveraging private investment is best

A new Cato study provides input to the debate by examining infrastructure ownership and funding. Some people assume that the federal government plays the main role in infrastructure, but the states and private sector own 97 percent of U.S. nondefense infrastructure, and they fund 94 percent of it.

However, the federal government is the tail that wags the dog—its regulations, taxes, and subsidies affect the level and efficiency of state, local, and private infrastructure investment. The study argues that reforms to these federal interventions and privatization are the paths to higher-performance infrastructure.

So while the advocate of the bill will be able to make a strong general case for infrastructure investment, there may be better approaches to argue for. And, of course, Congressional debaters may wish to argue for no federal role at all (as the Edwards article does).

P-15 ……..A Bill to Increase the Minimum Wage

The debate about increasing the minimum wage is one that has occurred for decades, and recently there has been a push in many states to increase the minimum wage in particular states. Some have also been advocating for federal legislation to raise the minimum wage nation-wide.

Given the rising cost of living and the difficulties for many minimum wage workers to even pay their bills, this is not a terrible idea, but raising the minimum wage creates problems — it raises the price of goods (for everyone, including minimum wage workers), it encourages companies to automate rather than hire workers, and generally reduces profits, discouraging business investment.

Anyhow, it’s an old and good debate. The file contains arguments on both sides of the topic.

P-16 ……..A Bill to Mandate Neurological Testing for All Presidential Candidates

The idea that Presidents should be subject to tests to determine if they are suffering from a neurological illness is not new, but it has been discussed more recently:

Presidents are not required to take psychological or psychiatric evaluations or pass a mental health examination before taking or while serving office in the United States. But some Americans and at least one member of Congress called for such a mental-fitness test during the 2016 election. The idea of requiring presidential candidates to undergo psychological evaluation was not new, though. In the mid-1990s, former President Jimmy Carter pushed for the creation of a panel of physicians who would routinely evaluate the most powerful politician in the free world and decide whether their judgment was clouded by a mental disability. “Many people have called to my attention the continuing danger to our nation from the possibility of a U.S. president becoming disabled, particularly by a neurologic illness,” Carter wrote in a December 1994 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. …   The idea of requiring presidential candidates to undergo psychological evaluations arose in the general election campaign of 2016, primarily because of Republican nominee Donald Trump‘s erratic behavior and numerous incendiary comments. Indeed, Trump’s mental fitness became a central issue of the campaign.  A member of Congress, Democrat Karen Bass of California, called for a mental-health evaluation of Trump before the election, saying the billionaire real-estate development and reality-television star exhibits signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In a petition seeking the evaluation, Bass called Trump “dangerous for our country. His impulsiveness and lack of control over his own emotions are of concern. It is our patriotic duty to raise the question of his mental stability to be the commander in chief and leader of the free world.” The petition carried no legal weight (ThoughtCo)

But, of course, neurological problems are not limited to mental health issues, and many past Presidents likely suffered from other neurological disorders:

We’ll come back to the issue of how presidential brain unfitness should be determined. But first, let’s take a journey through the surprising twists and turns of the neurological history of U.S. presidents, guided by Silvestri. He pulled that history together for a Lincoln’s Birthday seminar in Buffalo, and described its high points in an interview.

Migraine, Seizures, Strokes

First stop: migraine headache. It’s a common ailment that doesn’t disqualify anyone from a highly responsible job. But still, migraines are “an extremely debilitating collection of neurological symptoms,” as the Migraine Research Foundation puts it — possibly a matter of concern in a president who needs to function at the top of his game during a crisis.

Silvestri says there’s evidence that John Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy suffered from migraines.

James Madison and FDR probably had seizure disorders, Silvestri says. From his college years, Madison was known to have spells that temporarily paralyzed him. “He would stare off, become immobile, and not react to his surroundings,” Silvestri says. It may be a reason Madison didn’t fight in the Revolution.

Silvestri thinks Madison’s spells were probably psychogenic seizures — a reaction to stress. “It’s what Freud describes as hysteria,” he says.

Whatever it was, Madison evidently grew out of it. The disorder didn’t prevent him from coauthoring the Constitution or the Federalist Papers, nor hinder him as president. “He was the last president to lead a field army in battle, during the War of 1812,” Silvestri notes. (When Presidential Brains go Awry: Neuro Disorders in the Oval Office)

P-17 ……..A Bill to Create a Path to Citizenship

This debate is one that occurs in the US every year — should the US provide a path to citizenship for individuals who are currently illegally residing in the US.

The basic idea that the advocates for the bill will identify is that there are many undocumented people living in the US already (triggering any harms to them being here) and that providing a path to citizenship will make it easier to collect taxes from said individuals and make it easier to integrate them into society, reducing unemployment and criminal activity.

Opponents of a path to citizenship argue that once the illegal immigrants become citizens it will make it easy for them to take jobs from existing citizens and that it will encourage more people to illegally migrate in hopes of becoming citizens, especially since this bill doesn’t also include mechanisms to reduce illegal immigration.

Anyhow, this is a good, two-sided debate, and Trump’s anti-immigrant stance means that the topic is easy to research. The link here will take you to all of our extensive resources on both sides of the question.

P-18 ……..A Bill to Legalize Prostitution in the U.S. to Protect Americans and Combat the Spread of Disease

The case for legalizing prostitution centers around the idea that prostitution occurs even when it is illegal and that legalizing it would bring it out into the open so that it could be regulating, reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and reducing the incentives for sex trafficking. Opponents of legalization argue it would substantially increase prostitution, increasing the spread of sexually transmittable diseases and increasing sex trafficking.

P-19 ……..A Resolution to Abolish Middle School

When I first read about this bill, I figured it was simply the dream of a middle school student, but there is actually some pretty strong evidence that students in middle schools underperform relative to students who had K-8 and then 9-12 educations. There are some other social benefits to middle school, making it for an interesting debate.

P-20 ……..A Bill to Improve U.S. Public Sewage Infrastructure

The arguments about sewage infrastructure are similar to the arguments about water infrastructure, except the sewage infrastructure harms focus more on the spread of disease. The arguments against the bill — cost, lack of funding, the relevance of other actors — are the same as for the water infrastructure bill (after all, sewage infrastructure is part of the water infrastructure).

Background reading: Flushing the toilet has never been easier

Note that “sewage” infrastructure is “water” infrastructure, so almost everything in this file applies —

 P-21 A Bill to Increase Funding of STEM Education for Inner City Schools

There are really two parts of this debate –
(a) Should funding for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) be increased because the US needs to increase its strength in STEM education?

(b) Regardless of whether or not overall strength in STEM education needs to be increased, should more funding be given to “inner city” schools to reduce inequality in education, particularly STEM education.

There is evidence in the release that debates both sides of these questions and there is also evidence that says policies such as these should be carried out by the state governments, not the federal government


S-1 A Resolution to Restrict the Actions of Paramilitary Units


S-2 A Resolution to Limit the President’s Use of Executive Orders

S-3 A Resolution to Allow Americans to Purchase Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada

S-4 A Bill to Repeal the Johnson Amendment of 1954 and Amend the Internal Revenue Code

S-5 A Resolution to Issue Economic Sanctions Against the Philippines to Disempower the Police State of President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs

S-6A Resolution to Recognize Taiwan

S-7 A Bill to Establish Mental Health Programs in Schools

S-8 A Bill to Ensure Consumer Data Security

S-9 A Resolution to Develop the Sahel Region to Counter Terrorist Aggression

S-10 A Bill to Abolish Private Prisons

S-11 A Bill to Require the President to Relinquish all Private Business Enterprises

S-12 A Bill to Eliminate Mandatory Minimum Sentences


The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017

The Email Privacy Act of 2017

Gender Diversity in Corporate Leadership Act of 2017

The Muhammad Ali Expansion Act of 2017

The Russia Sanctions Review Act of 2017