The 2011 session of the Kentucky General Assembly convenes next month. But the hallways of the State Capitol are already filled with young Kentuckians who could be the lawmakers of the future.
Every year about this time, the House and Senate chambers come alive with the voices of hundreds of young Kentuckians. The sixth through twelth graders from across the Commonwealth conduct mock legislative sessions, complete with debates and votes on various bills they’ve authored. Ashley Kolaya of the YMCA says 40 states have similar youth citizenship programs, but the largest is the Kentucky Youth Assembly.
“California has the second largest program, and they’ve got about 3,000 students in theirs and we have about, between 8,000 or 9,000 in ours,” said Kolaya. “So this is something that Kentucky is doing that sets the standard for the rest of the country.”
Among bills debated by student lawmakers from Louisville and western Kentucky were measures to increase the number of primary care physicians in the Commonwealth; allow nuclear reactors; legalize riverboat casinos; and tax cigarettes to provide scholarship funds for students who perform well on Advanced Placement tests.
“Shelby Pedigo, representing Assumption High School, Sir Chair….If the average AP or IB student were to take two exams a year, this would provide a $1,600 renewable scholarship for four years in a Kentucky college or university.”
“Chris Abney, St. Xavier High School, Sir Chair….I’m against this bill because it is discriminating against smokers. They are always the ones to receive taxation, and even a small tax is still a tax.”
As in real life, bills approved by both chambers go to the governor. “Governor” Ben Venable of Oldham County High School promised to give each measure fair consideration.
“I’m advised on each bill’s cost and given a budget to which I have to decide which bills to keep,” said Venable.
“Well, have you made any decisions yet?” asked McVeigh.
“I’ve made a couple.”
Scheduling conflicts prevented the state’s real governor, Steve Beshear, from dropping by to address the assembly, but the students had no trouble recognizing his replacement…
(Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear is introduced)
Heaping praise on the student lawmakers for getting involved in the governmental process, Mrs. Beshear told them their participation, attentiveness and enthusiasm increaases her confidence in Kentucky’s future.
“Now you know how important these individuals are whose seats you occupy,” said Mrs. Beshear. “But you’re also engaged in what’s going on in the local, state and federal government that affects all of us, day in and day out.”
Echoing those sentiments is Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, who was showing a group of Muhlenberg County students around the State Capitol.
“I saw a whole body full of very bright, wide-eyed, eager and aggressive young folks who I would be very pleased to have take my seat when I leave here,” said Yonts.
That’s exactly what Laura Bosler of Sacred Heart High School in Louisville has in mind.
“I’ve always had dreams to go into politics,” said Bosler. “And this just opens my eyes to all the things you can do and how you can better the world through politics. And you meet so many people through the Y and you learn perspectives of everyone – every political party and every religion. It’s a really great thing.”
In less than a month, the 138 members of the Kentucky General Assembly return to Frankfort for the 2011 session. And if they listen carefully, perhaps they’ll hear the echoes of the voices of a new generation of Kentucky leaders reverberating off the marble walls of the State Capitol.