Springfield – More than 70 students from across the 53rd Senate District travelled to the Capitol March 8 to take action on legislation in a mock committee hearing, as part of State Sen. Jason Barickman’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC).
"Everyone worries that the younger generations might not be engaged in how their government works,” said Barickman (R-Bloomington). “This is a chance for students to see and interact with their elected officials, and actually take part in the lawmaking process.”
Senator Barickman’s YAC program, now in its fourth year, brings students together in the fall to discuss, propose, and vote on legislation. The winning bill is then advanced to the spring meeting at the Capitol, where students take on multiple roles in the legislative process, including acting as Senators, lobbyists, concerned citizens, members of the media, and even the governor and staff. The students then take action on their legislation during a mock committee hearing.
“I like to have that kind of debate with people that have different opinions from me because that’s where the process gets started with making legislation,” said Normal Community West student Zaine Losk, who was tasked with lobbying his fellow students before the debate. “I think it will get me more exposed to the political process and debating and having those kinds of conversations with people outside of just my school and people that have different backgrounds from me.”
“It’s funny to see how our opinions differ from small farm country to bigger-ish cities, but it’s nice to see that we can kind of come to an agreement on most things, though some things are still very divided,” said Bismarck-Henning student Marissa Oxendine, who took on the role of the Governor during the mock committee. “I think it’s cool especially because everything is so well put together and everyone is putting together very well thought-out, detailed plans, and the debate really does help change minds, no matter where we come from.”
Before the mock committee hearing, students were able to learn more about the various roles they would serve by hearing from people who serve in those roles, including Senator Barickman, Representative Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City), staff members, lobbyists, and a reporter who covers state government.
“I found it to be a lot of fun, just to understand how government works. It’s a really cool experience, you can just engulf yourself in it, there’s really no better way to learn in my opinion than to be hands-on and get the experience,” said Normal Community student Tyler Kanski, who served as the Committee Chair. “You can’t really learn how this process works in a classroom, you have to come here and see it for yourself.”
The students eventually voted to advance their legislation, which was a bill regarding firearm safety. Legislation from previous meetings have covered a wide range of topics, including college entrance requirements and creating new opportunities for home-schooled students.
“For me, this is a two-way conversation. I hope the students learn more about the process, and are encouraged to possibly consider a career in government,” said Senator Barickman. “But they are an important part of my district, and this is a chance for them to be able to educate me about what issues are most important to them.”