By Duke Ostendorf
Special to the Palisades News
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of being a panelist at the Palisades-Malibu YMCA’s Youth and Government Bill Hearing Night.
California YMCA Youth and Government’s Model Legislature and Court (MLC) has been the state’s premier youth leadership and civic development program since 1948.
The MLC creates a six-month, learn-by-doing experience that teaches the values of democracy by bringing together a cross-section of the state’s high school students.
This program provides students with the opportunity to experience government first-hand and to learn how to solve community problems through the democratic process, as well as debate and discuss issues with their peers from throughout California.
The Palisades group will travel to Sacramento in February to the model legislature that will attract 3,500 high school student delegates, representing more than 100 statewide YMCAs.
Each delegation is responsible for bringing a certain number of bills to debate in the California Senate and Assembly Chambers for the MLC, which takes place over President’s Day weekend.
There, students go through the process of presenting their bills and working towards passing them into law. If you look back on past model legislatures you will find that our young legislators were constantly “out front” on the issues which have ultimately led to new legislation.
Bill Hearing Night gives delegates the opportunity to debate each bill in front of an audience, which consists of peers, families and our panel. Six bills, representing the work of 120 Pali delegates working in subgroups, were presented to our panel.
Our role was to comment, question and bring any insight we might have on a bill as to language, intent or hurdles in passing. The delegates then take the critiques from Bill Hearing Night and can edit their bills and speeches to make the best presentation in February.
The six bills presented covered a broad spectrum and demonstrated our delegates’ ability to read the political landscape and come up with innovative and fresh ideas for future legislation.
The bills covered: 1.) a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants with five years of residency; 2.) a tax on single-user straws; 3.) the creation of a statewide, semester-long course on college and work preparedness; 4.) protection of all data stored on the “cloud” from outside agencies; 5.) prohibiting prisons from providing gender reassignment surgery to inmates using public funds; and 6.) eliminating the luxury tax on feminine hygiene products.
In all of these bills, our delegates demonstrated the ability to identify and research issues, debate them, and write innovative new legislation addressing issues.
It was exciting and uplifting to witness our delegates’ passion and commitment to what they were doing that night. While the debate was sometimes fierce, it was always civil, good-natured, and geared towards getting it right. I couldn’t help but think that things in Sacramento would go better with these kids in charge. I left that night with a breath of fresh air at my back.