R-JENERATION: Nevada Youth Legislature aims to safeguard Millennium Scholarship

Directly participating in the legislative process — expressing their concerns and creating change — is a dream that will become reality for 19 Nevada teens Tuesday , when select members of the Nevada Youth Legislature head to Carson City to testify before the 77th session of the Nevada Legislature. Their goal is to pass SJR-C47, a bill amending the Nevada Constitution to safeguard the Kenny Guinn Millennium Scholarship.

This amendment to the Nevada Constitution would ensure that money allocated for the Millennium Scholarship would not be used, under any circumstances, for any other reason. After the Legislature “swept” about $7 million from the fund to fill a budget hole, the youth legislature decided to propose the bill to protect the scholarship program in the constitution.

The problem is a concern for 2011-2012 youth legislator Hannah Dey, the bill’s creator.

“No matter how bad the state’s budget may be, students should not have the privilege of the Millennium Scholarship taken away,” she said.

Like Dey, many Nevada Youth Legislature members are passionate about passing the bill on behalf of current and future students.

“The only way we are going to move forward as a state is to put education as one of our top priorities, and one of the best ways to do so would be to pass this bill,” said Miranda Rosen, a youth legislator who attends Coronado High School.

“There should be no time limit to this fund,” said Nathan Keith, a youth legislator and Legacy High School student. “No student should be denied an education strictly due to financial restraints.”

Although the bill is the Nevada Youth Legislature’s main focus, the group created another piece of legislation that will be heard during the session. Last spring, the 2011-2012 youth legislators decided what bill to submit, voting 10-10 on two ballots before one changed his vote to produce a winner, SJR-C47. However, youth legislator Grant Gabriel strongly believed in his legislation and took his idea to Sen. James Settelmeyer. Settelmeyer was impressed with the losing bill draft, picked it up as his own and will introduce it this session, bringing two Nevada Youth Legislature proposals up for consideration. This bill provides the creation and funding of an internship program for high school juniors and seniors in agriculture, construction and trade.

Each of the 19 youth legislators in the 2012-2013 session is appointed by a Nevada state senator. They learn about the legislative process under the guidance of former state Sen. Valerie Wiener-D, Las Vegas and Secretary of the Senate David Byerman, and Byerman has noticed the students’ passion.

“My own feeling about the resolution, its prospects of passage, even whether or not it should be passed, pales in comparison to the feelings of our youth legislators,” Byerman said. “Ultimately, it’s their resolution, and could ultimately become their amendment to the Nevada Constitution.”

Wiener is proud, too.

“Whenever you attempt to change the constitution, it’s a lofty undertaking,” she said. “However, I have great confidence that youth legislators will present this bill with ultimate skill.”

The nationally recognized program is one of four youth councils in the United States, but Nevada is one of only two states with a youth legislature that’s empowered to propose state legislation. Although the young legislators come from different backgrounds, they share a passion for the legislative process.

“I wanted to be a part of NYL because I love politics, leadership and serving my community,” Rosen said. “There are few organizations that provide youth the opportunity to have their voices heard within the political world, and I thought that NYL would be an amazing opportunity.”

Learning about the legislative process in the classroom is one thing; having the experience is another.

“Youth legislators see firsthand the pressures we put on our elected officials,” Byerman said. “The empowerment to propose actual legislation is important, because it makes the Nevada Youth Legislature more than an academic program. The stakes are real, and our youth legislators will be subject to the same lobbying and scrutiny that our elected officials go through.”

Despite the pressures, many youth legislators have found the program rewarding.

“I have met amazing people from all walks of life,” Keith said, “people whom I will build long-lasting relationships with.”

Byerman said he hopes the youth legislators gain from the program.

“I hope that our youth legislators emerge with both the skill set and experience they’ll need to be effective public servants themselves some day,” he said. “It is only a matter of time before our youth legislator becomes our real legislator.”