Approximately 40 students visited the Illinois State Capitol on April 10 to hold a mock committee hearing and vote on legislation that they had proposed earlier in the year. The event was part of State Senator Jason Barickman’s (R-Bloomington) Youth Advisory Council Program.
“People always say that young people aren’t engaged in what’s happening in government,” said Barickman. “This is an opportunity to not only engage them in the process, but to let them try their hands at being lawmakers, lobbyists, and even reporters.”
The Senators program gathers high school students from across the 53rd Senate District to meet in the fall to learn about government, propose new legislation, and vote to advance one mock bill. During the spring meeting, the students visited the Senate floor and met with lawmakers, legislative staff, lobbyists, and reporters before holding a mock committee hearing on their legislation.
“I think it’s kind of shaping the future generation of legislators who are going to come and do this when they grow up,” said Normal West High School Junior Jolie Pressburger. “It’s important that people can experience what it’s actually like instead of just learning about it, and decide if it is something they are interested in in the future.”
“Eventually someone is going to have to replace the incumbents that we have right now, we need people who are informed and know what is going on to take over for them when they step down,” said Hoopeston Area High School student Gage Kenner. “You’re missing a day of school to learn about the inner workings of the government, learn about the growth, and how people can go through this long process, and how long it takes and how worthwhile it is to get a bill you like or dislike where you want it to be.”
During the mock committee hearing, students filled the roles of lawmakers on the Senate Transportation Committee, lobbyists, concerned citizens, reporters, and even the governor. The students’ mock legislation would change the Illinois organ donor system into an automatic opt-in system where all drivers are assumed to be donors unless they opt out. They discussed, debated, lobbied, questioned, and negotiated their bill, ultimately passing it with 11 yes votes, 6 nays, and 2 voting present.
“I’m really interested in law and I wanted to see how everything works and how everyone interacted with each other,” said Pontiac Township High School student Franchesca Smith. “I think I take away how to interact with more people that have different views than me, and people that may not have the same ideas as I do, but we can still work together and be cohesive.”
Senator Barickman recommends that students who are interested in taking part in his Youth Advisory Program during the 2019-2020 school year should contact their school administrators or his district office.
“It’s a great opportunity for the students to get an inside look at careers in public service and see if it’s something they like,” said Barickman. “It’s also a great chance for me to get to know them and find out what issues are most important to them. This is easily one of my favorite parts of serving as a Senator.”