Six passionate students make up one of Lafayette High School’s newest clubs: the Government Club. The club is focused on preparing for the YMCA Youth and Government’s Youth Legislature conference, which will be held in Jackson in November.
Sponsored by Spanish teacher Scott Jimenez, the teenaged legislators will join nearly 400 other Mississippi students to push their original bills through a replica of the actual legislative process. Each set of bill partners chooses the bill’s purpose, which they believe will improve the state.
Jimenez is a long-time veteran of the Youth Legislature conference, having participated as a high schooler and sponsored delegations from another high school. He says he put together the club at Lafayette because north Mississippi is constantly under represented at the conference. But getting students on board was not an easy task. “How do I pitch this to kids who might not care two Googles-worth about the government?” Jimenez said.
He found, however, that several were interested because of their involvement in FFA (also known as Future Farmers of America), which also puts students in debate settings
Malia Carothers, along with her partner Alisha Hickinbottom, will be presenting a bill to instate an electronic monitoring system for non-violent juvenile delinquents who opt to participate in community service rather than spend time in a detention center. Carothers believes the act would save the state money as well as cleanse the judicial system of racism and other bias by making the community service an opt-in program rather than a judge’s sentence.
Though she has never participated in a Youth and Government program, Carothers is confident in her ability to express herself. “I’m not worried about speaking, because I could speak all day,” the power-lifter and yearbook staff member said. “But I am nervous about standing up an forgetting everything,” she added.
Another legislator, Samuel Taylor Rayburn, and his partner Thomas Hinton have written a bill to require random, suspicion-less drug testing for Mississippi’s welfare recipients. “I picked [the topic] for multiple reasons; I do have family on welfare and I got the idea while I was at NYLC [National Young Leaders Conference] so when my partner mentioned it, I jumped on it,” Rayburn said.
Taylor Bost and Cody Ramage will be presenting another novel idea at the conference. Their bill proposes to eliminate the state income tax, decrease the sales tax on necessities like food and beverages, and increase taxes on other goods including recreational items, the highest increase being on alcohol and tobacco. Their presentation includes research gathered from the Mississippi Board of Revenue which they believe proves that the proceeds to be gained from their new system compensate for any slowing in economic growth caused by the sales tax increases.
Jimenez’s plan for expanding the club is to let the conference do the talking. “Honestly this year I have mostly underclassmen, so I figure get them to the conference, see how much fun it is, see how much they enjoy it, and hopefully next year more will go back,” he said.
The confident Carothers has advice for students interested in speech and debate events. “If you want your voice heard, go out and get it. Don’t sit back because a closed mouth don’t get fat,” she said.
Hoping to one day be a broadcast journalism and communications major, Rayburn values the opportunity the Youth Legislature conference will give him to publicly express himself while still in high school and encourages others to take the same opportunities when they arise. “Don’t be afraid to join—once you join don’t be afraid to speak your opinion,” he said.
Grace Sullivan is a journalism student at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media