President Trump signs NJ high school students' bill into law

HIGHTSTOWN, N.J. (WPVI) -- Three years ago, students from Hightstown High School drafted the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act, and Tuesday night President Trump signed that bill into law.

These teens have accomplished something they say no other students have done.

They are the only high school that drafted a bill that eventually became a national law.

Their Honors Government and Politics teacher, Stuart Wexler, is beaming with pride.

"I would have put us at 10-thousand to 1. I mean because I know the odds of a regular bill getting through just committee is 1 and 20 at best, and we have to go through committees in two different chambers," said Wexler.

They defied the odds and their bill passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Tuesday, President Trump signed the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act of 2018, also known as the Cold Case Act, into law. It requires that unsolved criminal civil rights cases be reviewed, declassified and any related government records be released.

Students are still pinching themselves about the victory.

"It is a pretty tumultuous time in D.C. The government is shut down. We are seeing a lot of disagreement and polarization in the capital and for something like this to still get through inspires one of the most tumultuous times in American history is just incredible. It's really a big glimpse of hope in a dark time," said Jay Vaingankar, Class of 2016

The students drafted the law three years ago after learning about tragic stories of dozens of victims whose cases had been re-opened but eventually closed without resolution. For them, it's about justice and providing closure to the families.

"I would like to see the review board release the files as we had hoped for and see that these files released actually will help families get more information about why their loved one was killed, what the motive was and if possible who killed them and really allow those families to have closure," said James Ward, a senior at Hightstown High.

These students tell me they are thrilled by what they accomplished and they tell me they never thought an idea created inside this high school would make it all the way to Washington and eventually end up on the President's desk.

"We are not going to sit back and wait our turn, we are going to get started in our 20s and we are ready to play and this is just the beginning," said Vaingankar.

Senator Doug Jones from Alabama, an early supporter of the efforts by the students invited them to the Senate Gallery as he introduced the bill back in July.

The students say their achievement sends a message to other schools and also government leaders.

"They can see this as a message that what we are doing matters and what kids who are 16 and 17 are doing is important too. And just because they can't vote doesn't mean that their future isn't going to be impacted and doesn't mean that they can't care about a lot of these issues," said Maya Reddy, Hightstown Class of 2017.

The bill is now law but the students and their teacher say the work is far from over.

"We understand that now we have passed a bill. It is all about implementation and execution, so we have to make sure that we hold members of Congress and the White House accountable to make sure they appoint members of this board and they are actively releasing the documents," added Vaingankar.

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