Dozens of students worked together in Bloomington to develop legislation that they hope can improve the state. The effort was part of State Sen. Jason Barickman’s (R-Bloomington) Youth Advisory Council program.
“This is a chance for students from different backgrounds, rural and urban areas, Republicans, Democrats, and independents, to all work together in the hope of improving their state,” said Sen. Barickman. “The goal is to engage them in the processes of government so that they will be prepared to become active, whether as lawmakers, government professionals, or well-informed citizens.”
Barickman’s Youth Advisory Council brought dozens of students from across the 53rd Senate District to come to Bloomington to learn about government and try their hand at crafting legislation. After hearing from local and statewide business and government leaders, the students worked in groups to propose a variety of ideas for new legislation, from changing how college tuition is set to enacting term limits.
“Personally I’ve always been involved in politics and being civically engaged, as a teenager it’s very important that we get involved in the political process because we have voices that are just as strong as people that are older than us,” said Pontiac Township High School student Alec Kridner, who also noted what he felt students learned from the program. “Debating and getting people to agree with your ideology, how to draft legislation, as well as how much of a voice we have and how we can reach out to politicians, other teenagers, and how we can draft legislation that can change the face of the state.”
The students then worked through a serious of debates and votes on the various plans, until ultimately deciding on a proposal to change the state organ donor system.
“I got to meet many different peers and hear their personal opinions about different political topics, and that helps me form more of my opinions on political topics that I will be voting on in the future,” said Watseka High School student Cassie Peters. “I think this was pretty eye-opening and was just a good experience to have no matter what you’re going into, or what your personal opinions are, or how educated you are in politics, it’s just good to listen, and if you can, give your own opinion.”
“Everyone has an opinion, but I thought what really got a bill passed through our little own group of people, was that we came together, discussed an issue, and we can bring it together, ourselves, and put forward a bill that we thought was important for us as students,” said University High School student Michael Kraft. “It’s a great opportunity to learn what other students are actually feeling, and instead of being kind of afraid to say what you’re thinking, and come together in a safe place and get to know other perspectives.”
The student’s legislation would change the organ donor system, from automatically excluding donors unless they opt-in, to a system that automatically includes residents unless they choose to opt-out. The students hoped the idea would help save lives.
“We finally found something that we all had common ground on, and we found the pro’s and the con’s, and then we figured out how to make our legislation,” said Hoopeston High School student Mason Vorick. “I think it will help me learn to work with people better, it will help me learn to adapt to people’s thought processes.”
“There’s so many different views on something and not everything is black and white, so this is really eye opening and it’s really cool to branch out, because I’m just used to my school, and we have a lot of similar opinions there, and so it’s been cool to see what other people have to say about things,” said Eureka High School student Alexi Fogo. “I think one thing I’ve learned is just to have a listening ear, and when I go back to school, I’ll remember that you learn a lot more and you gain a lot of respect from people when you take the time to listen to what they have to say.”
In the spring, the members of Barickman’s Youth Advisory Council will visit the state Capitol during the legislative session, to conduct a mock committee hearing on their proposal.
“It’s always interesting to see what issues the students will choose to address with their proposals, and it’s amazing to hear them passionately debate what is important to them,” said Sen. Barickman. “This is also a great opportunity for lawmakers such as myself to learn about the issues that our younger constituents are interested in. I look forward to seeing how they have honed their arguments and ideas for our meeting at the Capitol this spring.”