This past weekend, high school students from St Johns and Clay chapters of the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast Delegation joined over 700 students who traveled to our state capitol to take part in the 56th annual Florida Youth in Government State Assembly.
There, they debated in the actual Senate and House chambers in order to learn responsible leadership in the American democratic process and to experience law making first-hand through five program areas: Legislative, Executive, Judicial, Lobbyists and the Press Corps.
Our 21 students, representing Nease, Ponte Vedra, Bartram Trail, Oakleaf, St. Joseph’s Academy, and home school, participated in the legislative program where they formulated arguments, practiced techniques to learn to “debate ideas not people”.
“The St. Johns County Chapter as well as the First Coast delegation was represented so well at State Assembly. We made our voices heard and our presence strong while remaining respectable to others”, said Diana Oum, incoming president for the 2013-2014 year.
The yearlong, nonpartisan program allows students to improve their public speaking and debate skills while they express their opinions, ignite change, and represent their generation. Involved students may obtain scholarships and college credit. The bill topics were diverse, and each student’s bill represented their own personal interests in Florida politics. Eleven student bills made it onto the docket and post-committees to potentially be debated on the floor.
Nidhi Suresh eloquently presided over the Bowen House as a first year delegate and Adya Modi was the first delegate to present in her chamber with her first bill. Officers commented that it was the best first debate they had ever seen. Diana Oum, as a supporting officer, served as the Clerk of the Sullivan House. Two student’s bills from the First Coast Delegation were co-sponsored and heard in their respective chambers.
Passing a bill at State Assembly is a lengthy process. Before a bill can go to the floor for debate it has to pass two committees. Then if the bill makes it to the House floor, the bill authors must be prepared for 5 rounds of debate with the student legislators. After the debates, the bill is brought to a vote. If the bill passes, it must then be presented by a co-sponsor in the Senate, and pass a vote there before going to the executive cabinet. Elected high school officers from all over Florida, holding positions such as Youth Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Commissioner of Agriculture, interrogate the author and decide whether to sign the bill into law or to veto it.
Eleven of our students’ bills made it onto the docket, and four bills passed in their chambers. Hannah Shaffer, from Nease High School, had her bill (SB 2116) passed in the Senate, co-sponsored by Ashleigh Taylor in the House, and ultimately went before the executive cabinet and was signed into law by the YIG governor. Overall, few student bills even make it out of committees. This is the first time a bill from the First Coast Delegation has ever been signed into law or made it to the cabinet.
Ashleigh Taylor told Hannah Shaffer, “Thank you so much for letting me present, it meant so much to me. I was so happy to help get Senate Bill 2116 passed in the Sullivan House of Representatives. I know I’m not the only one who has seen their public speaking skills flourish since day one. I am so excited to help advise the younger kids and am so glad to have met such great friends in our delegation from schools all around our county.”
Peighton Jones from Nease High School and chair of Junior Youth in Government (JYIG) last year, said that she is “so incredibly proud of the growth of our delegation, not only in numbers but also in skill and passion. Seeing the kids that I presided over in JYIG become such well-spoken delegates has been an amazing thing to watch. I cannot wait to see all of the big things that our delegation will continue to do throughout the program.”
Hannah Shaffer commented, “I am so incredibly proud of each and every member of our delegation and am proud to call you my friends. I feel we have all grown so much closer through this trip and I am excited to see how this increased friendship and familiarity with each other helps us grow and learn to be even better at the next YIG Assembly. Again, thank you all for making this trip to Tallahassee a very memorable one, and hands down the best part of my year so far.”
The new officers for year 2013-2014 for the Florida’s First Coast Delegation include: president, Diana Oum; vice president, Emma Loya and Hannah Shaffer, secretary. Advisors include: Tim Brooks, Leslie Cook, Jeani Taliaferro, Lacie Petry, Nancy Birchall, Dani Slader, and Danielle Smith. Congratulations are in order for Diana Oum who was awarded acceptance to the Conference on National Affairs, (CONA) and to Jacqueline Hoza and Peighton Jones, chosen as alternates.