By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Being a teenager can be hard — caught between adulthood and childhood, and it seems the adults have all the power.
But a program at Cody High School allows students to have a say in the laws that govern them.
The Youth For Justice program started as a social studies project 25 years ago. But coordinator Deb White said she and her students became passionate about the legislative process after a tragedy struck a local youth just one year later.
“That next year, a kid in Cody died in a single car rollover,” White said, “and there were no seatbelt laws in the state of Wyoming at the time. My kids were like, ‘There should be a law about that.’
“So we went down to Cheyenne and started lobbying,” she continued. “It took us two years to get that through, and since then, every year, we go down and get laws passed.”
A group of Cody High School students travel to the state Capitol each year to attend one day of the Legislature’s session, lobbying for everything from seatbelt laws to a ban on teenage smoking. White noted that the students decide which bills they want to see passed.
“We actually start researching in September or October,” White said, “and start thinking about things that the kids believe should be a law.”
According to White, the students research what other states are doing with regards to similar laws, then find a sponsor for the bill they would like to see passed.
“We’re to the point now where people call us,” White said, explaining that a local police officer reached out to the group last year to lobby for a law that would require medical professionals in Wyoming to report gunshot and stab wounds.
“It’s ridiculous that the bill didn’t pass last year,” White said. “Wyoming is one of two states where medical professionals don’t have to report gunshot wounds to the police.”
Danny Deming, a senior at Cody High School, pointed out that the program allows students to interact directly with the legislators, and he said that makes a difference.
“Legislators get a unique perspective,” he said, “because they hear from students who are directly affected by the laws they’re passing.”
This year, the students are putting their efforts behind four different bills – one of which would require local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal laws banning vaping among those under the age of 21.
“We’re working with local legislators and local businessmen on ways to reduce youth access (to vaping products),” White said.
Other bills the group is working on include one that would allow students who are children of active members of the military to attend Wyoming colleges at in-state tuition rates, as well as a bill that tightens up language in voyeurism laws.
At one time, there were eight to 10 schools in Wyoming that sent students to the legislature, but White said Cody may be the only district that sends kids every year.
“It is the most educational experience I’ve ever had with kids,” White said. “Even though I was a science teacher, and this is a social studies program, it’s all the skills. It’s research, and media creation, and public speaking. It’s authentic assessment.
“And word on the street is, the Cody Youth For Justice kids are the most effective lobbyists in the state of Wyoming.”
The Wyoming Legislature convenes on Feb. 10. Cody High School’s Youth For Justice students will be there to make sure their voices are heard.