February 8, 1999
To form public policy, lawmakers usually seek the opinions of a wide range of constituents. State Senator Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, decided to target one perspective in particular: youth.
McAuliffe has formed a Legislative District Youth Advisory Council consisting of sixteen area young people ranging from ages 13 to 18. The group will meet regularly with the Senator throughout the 1999 legislative session to learn about the legislative process, track bills, lobby the Legislature, and propose ideas for new legislation.
The idea for a Youth Advisory Council developed after McAuliffe attended one of the youth forums held by the Governor. She says, "I heard many teens comment on how people aren't really listening to them because there isn't any action after they express their opinions. They emphasized their desire to be involved in issues that mattered to them. I realize that we lawmakers often say that the opinions of young people matter, but then we don't take the opportunity to follow through. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to form a council at the local level to better learn about the issues of most concern to teenagers and youth. It's also a great way to teach kids about the legislative process and get them involved now so it will hopefully lead to lifelong involvement."
Following two town meetings for youth held in Bothell and Mountlake Terrace, applications were handed out to all interested individuals. There were twenty-five applicants for the council representatives, and after an interview process, sixteen were chosen. According to McAuliffe, the selected members are an impressive group with a history of student and community involvement that ranges from school government, to Girl Scouts, to youth groups, and to charitable fundraising.
The first meeting was held on Jan. 30 at the Kenmore Boys and Girls Club (both the Kenmore and the Kirkland Boys and Girls Clubs are helping to facilitate the project). "It was a good first meeting," says the Senator. "There were excitement and enthusiasm generated among the group and I am happy with where we're headed."
At the meeting, the Council spent time understanding the process of a bill becoming law. "This process is complex," comments McAuliffe, "and it takes time to learn. We also spent time explaining how to read a bill, which is also somewhat challenging."
The group was broken down into four separate sub-groups, headed by an adult team leader. Each group selected a primary bill that interested them, and their job is to get input from their peers about the bill. Then they will meet to determine what to do with the bill and discuss proposed changes. Once this is done, the groups will return to the main group and try to achieve consensus on the bills.
"We want them to be able to track the bill," adds McAuliffe, "and be a part of the process from beginning to end and see the difference they can make with involvement." Some of the bills chosen by the groups involve the following topics: Improving novice driver safety, revoking driver privileges for underage drinkers, and alternative sentencing of a juvenile offender.
The Youth Advisory Council is part of McAuliffe's year-long campaign to get young people involved in government called YOU(th) COUNT! It is the first of its kind in the Legislature. The senator hopes the council will serve as a model for other legislators to use in their own districts.
"I think the members are going to be fascinated to learn about the legislative process firsthand," says McAuliffe. "I hope that it will inspire them to stay involved, encourage the vote among young people, and maybe even get them to consider a career in public service."