Students from many area schools – Florida’s First Coast Delegation- participate in the YMCA Youth in Government (YIG) and Junior Youth in Government (JYIG) programs. This year, twenty-seven students practiced techniques to learn to “debate ideas not people” where “the partisan divide exists only between the engaged and the apathetic”.
Senior high students (representing Nease, Ponte Vedra, Bartram Trail, Oakleaf, Pedro Menendez, St. Joseph’s Academy, and home schooled students) have recently returned from Tallahassee where, 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. They joined over 700 students from across our state who participated in the 57th Annual Florida State Assembly through five program areas: Legislative, Executive, Judicial, Lobbyists and the Press Corps, effectively “taking over” our state government.
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.
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.
In its third year since founding, the Florida’s First Coast delegation made tremendous achievements.
• This was the first year the St. Johns County Chapter had middle school students who were Pages. Daniel Kessler and Rohan Bhargava represented us well and Daniel was awarded Outstanding Page.
• This was the first year we had a member in the Press Corps and Diana Oum was awarded Outstanding Member of the Press Corps.
• Peighton Jones was awarded Outstanding Statesman Runner-Up in the Williams House and was interviewed on NPR news Friday morning. She also served as a committee chair.
• For the second year in a row, Hannah Shaffer’s bill on housing for homeless was signed by the Youth Governor.
• Emma Loya’s bill on human trafficking passed in both chambers with help of co-sponsor Brooke Bland, and was heard by the Executive Cabinet.
• Brooke Bland’s bill was passed in both chambers, thanks to the help of her co-sponsor Emma Loya. Brooke also served as a committee chair.
• Jose Nava’s bill on bullying also passed in both chambers thanks to the help of his co-sponsor Alex Luckau .
• Sofia Chaker’s bill on Human Trafficking passed in the Williams House but was not heard by Williams Senate due to time.
Congratulations are in order for Brandon Ingram, who was selected to be a delegate to the Conference on National Affairs (CONA) with Brooke Bland, Diana Oum, Peighton Jones and Myah Eliam as alternates.
Abigail Miller is a National Judicial Conference delegate.
The middle school participants (representing Murray, Landrum, Bolles, Pacetti Bay, and Florida Virtual School) are heading to Junior Assembly. High school students who serve as mentors, and actually lead this program, include: Emma Loya, Samantha Cosme, Hannah Shaffer, Peighton Jones, Sanjana Bhargava and Alex Luckau.
The new officers for year 2014-2015 for the Florida’s First Coast Delegation include: President, Hannah Shaffer; Vice President, Emma Loya and Samantha Cosme, Secretary. YMCA coordinators are Jamaal Hill and Leslie Cook. Program advisors include: Tim Brooks, Nancy Birchall and Jeani Taliaferro
Photo credits: © 2014 Historic City News contributed photograph by Jeani Taliaferro