Did you know that among all of the United States, Texas is ranked 39th for volunteering, 47th for voter turnout, and 50th for discussing politics regularly? The YMCA Texas Youth and Government program recognizes these rankings and strives to make a difference. Our program prepares students through education and hands-on experience to commit to voting, volunteering, and participating in their community. Tomorrow, on Giving Tuesday, we hope you consider contributing to our mission of helping Texas teenagers become responsible citizens through civic engagement and participation. Your gift will allow one of more than 2,000 students to attend our State Conference where they will practice the interworking aspects of our government and gain the confidence to express their opinions. Help a student attend our State Conference by donating on our website at https://ymcatexasyg.org/donate/.
By Riley Wheaton
A collection of photos explaining how Youth and Government is an impactful and pertinent organization that raises and trains the leaders of the up and coming generation.
State Affairs: Mental Health and Wellness
Delegate Victor Falcon speaks on behalf of an amendment he proposed for Delegates Sheridyn Campos and Delegate Nirupama Balaji’s forum proposal “to aid high school students struggling with mental illness” by implementing a Mental Health Wellness Awareness Week each year. While Delegate Falcon from Hays High School believes that the proposal is “imperative for mental well-being,” he suggested that this week should take place on a monthly, rather than annual, basis. While the authors denied his amendment because such action would be too costly, the proposal was still passed during this practice round. Falcon elaborates that he enjoys participating in Youth and Government because of how it is “really fun to hear and see everyone’s hard work” as well as the experience he can gain for future endeavors.
State Affairs: Banning Minor Conversion Therapy
Delegate Chance Hall from Delle Valle High School speaks on behalf of his proposed bill for minor protections against conversion therapy. Hall chose to write this bill because he believes “conversion therapy is just a big form of torture” and that we would have a “better society” without such a practice existing. Several Delegates agreed with hall in saying that this practice is “outdated and extremely hurtful” (Delegate Parks Austin High) and “counter-productive” (Delegate Jamail Hays High School). One delegate stated that while such programs are harmful, it should be up to the parents’ discretion. Hall responded with the idea that under certain circumstances, this is understood, but under no circumstances should minors be forced into this specific type of so-called therapy. This form of competition under Youth and Government is exposing these students to real-world issues and allowing them to take a stance that betters our community.
Judge Rinehart has been participating in Youth and Government for three years now. After being a witness and then an attorney, Rinehart chose to tackle the role of judge this year in order to receive well-rounded experience in the different positions of the court. This year’s case involves an intoxicated manslaughter, in which all trial participants are able to evaluate serious and applicable scenarios. Rinehart’s role serves mainly to maintain “order in the court,” however, she explains that all of these experiences have given her “opportunities to expose herself” to fields of interest. Youth and Government provides many students who are “interested in law” to figure out if this is actually a career path they would like to take while being able to delve into their positions in a safe environment.
Legislative: Bill 24
Delegate Johnson from Fox Tech High School gives her closing authorship speech for her bill for the Improvement of Immigration Detention Center Living. Johnson explains that there is a lack of opportunities for immigrants in Texas and urges the introduction of some form of education to better their lives. While there was some push back due to the funding for the bill, Johnson still stood firm that on top of giving them educational opportunities, these people also should have the right to quality food, water, clothing, and other basic needs. Johnson states that immigrants have come to America in hope of a “dream that they knew people say America has,” and this dream should not be suppressed.
Legislative: Bill 45
Delegate Tyler Hauger speaks on behalf of Delegate Lily Sethre-Brink’s act to legalize sex work for legal adults. Hauger agrees that this act would “decrease STDs because of crime” of rape and sex trafficking as Sethre-Brink elaborated has been proven through a UCLA study. They advocate for this due to it being and individual’s right to use their body as they choose this regardless of the controversial opinions that exist on the issue. Hauger explains that he chooses to participate in Youth and Government because he wants “to go into politics in the future” and “it’s incredibly fun!”
Junior Youth and Government: Monarch Butterflies
Delegate Elias Reyborn from Clint Small Middle School proposes an amendment to Delegate Cali Reever’s act to propose protecting the migration paths of monarch butterflies. Rayborn suggests to amend line 7 of the bill in order urge against using pesticides for the milkweed that would be planted. Reever accepts this amendment and moves to her closing speech. She explains that “monarchs are amazing creatures (that) deserve to stay” and, therefore, she urged “all of (the delegates) to vote for this bill.” The chamber voted and her bill passed.
Junior Youth and Government
In Junior Youth and Government, these students are introduced to the rules and guidelines of the competition for legislature. The students first learned how to enact in basic debating through simulation before moving on to more complicated topics such as points of order. Students are openly allowed to ask questions about the guidelines in this environment. When responding to whether or not you can vote on your own bill, the teachers explain that you most definitely can and that you can even “vote against your own bill if you do not like it anymore” possibly due to an unwanted amendment.
Governor Candidate Addie Mae
Addie Mae Villas has been involved in Youth and Government for three years now and is a very dedicated member. This year she chose to run for Governor due to her passion for the organization and will to “change the status quo” of Youth and Government. Not only would she like to be the first female Governor since 2010, but, she is urging the integration of schools and throughout these competitions. She has this grand idea for a new form of Youth and Government that forms long lasting friendships while preparing for future careers.
Delegate Griffen Smith is preparing for his role as chair of his chamber while others are discussing what Youth and Government has to offer past the district level. Smith explains that his role is to “run the round,” make sure each delegate gets proper precedence, and that the round is carried out properly.
In this court, Daniel Springer is representing the State of Texas (appellent) against the appelle, Cameron Shepard who was accused of intoxicated manslaughter. In this round Springer gives long and elaborated speeches about this case and specific facts that references several other cases in order to come to a conclusion on this case. The Judge questions each side in order to draw out certain holes in each argument. For example, Springer suggests that “Officer Cole was able to remember certain facts” in which afterward the Judge explains that “law enforcement officer factual observations on DWI cases” are not accepted by the hearsay rule. All participants hard work shown through in this detailed round that is truly giving them real-life experience for any sort of career they would like to pursue in this realm.
By Ava Motes
Sophomores Luka Verheul and Alden Harris argued their first appellate case this morning, surprising both themselves and their opponents when the judge ruled in their favor.
“I felt so unprepared, I can’t believe we actually won,” said Harris, “It still feels like we didn’t deserve it.”
The pair was competing against another group from their school, who had spent over a month assembling their arguments. Harris and Verheul, on the other hand, wrote their opening statements twenty minutes before the trial began. Underdressed and unconfident, they went into the trial under the presumption that they would lose gruesomely to their peers.
Verheul and Harris faced an array of obstacles over the course of this morning.
“We overslept, we forgot to print our brief, our carpool almost left without us because we were running late, and the suit I planned to wear didn’t fit anymore,” said Verheul, “it was just like every little thing that could have gone wrong did.”
Verheul forced to attend the conference wearing loose-fitting thrifted trousers, vans, and sweatshirt. He felt entirely out of place by comparison to all of the other competitors.
“I didn’t think they’d take me seriously. The other team walked in looking insanely professional, and I was in a hoodie,” said Verheul.
“The past 24 hours were just so stressful,” said Verheul, who had gone to bed at 2 a.m. after sleeping-over at Haris’ house the previous night.
They had expected to buckle-down on their preparations the night before, but procrastinated to the point that productivity was no longer feasible.
“We would just keep saying ‘let’s watch one more video on YouTube, then we’ll prepare.’” Verheul said, “We just got into this mindset of putting it off because we were just so nervous.”
Two weeks prior, Harris and Verheul missed the deadline for appellate brief submissions and feared that they would be barred from participating.
“I didn’t even feel like preparing anymore because it just seemed like we wouldn’t be allowed to come,” said Harris.
The shaken feeling accompanying such insecurities stuck with them both, even after they were told that they still had the opportunity to compete. This compounded with first-time jitters, leaving the pair feeling unstable in their knowledge of the case general appellate proceedings. They were unsure of what to expect, and it seemed as though their work leading up to the conference was insufficient.
“We really did know the specifics of the case well, but I was worried that we couldn’t hold up in heavy debate,” said Harris.
However, appellate trials are not the extensive due process debates that they are often made out to be. Such trials are controlled and contained, testing your knowledge and interpretation as opposed to your use of flashy argument tactics. Effective public speaking skills are important for swaying a judge to rule in your favor, but it is just as vital for attorneys to understand the foundation of their case and respond to questions clearly.
After Harris and Verheul realized that the trial would not function as they had feared, they were able to proceed with more confidence.
“What we had expected was just so much worse than how it actually was. Once we realized that we could do this, despite everything we had been telling ourselves, everything went well,” said Harris.
Ultimately, Harris and Verheul were able to surge ahead of their opponents.
“We were respectful and clear, and I think that really impressed the judge,” said Verheul. Despite their last-minute preparations, they knew all of the answers to the questions posed to them and were able to respond thoroughly.
“I think we just needed to realize that everything was okay, and we actually knew our stuff,” said Harris.
The pair were able to prove themselves during their first trial, giving them the reassurance they needed to proceed with success throughout the remainder of the conference.
By Ivan Kipp
A new bill proposed at the Austin YMCA Texas Youth & Government District Conference is seeking to promote affordable public college in Texas by implementing a gasoline tax. New Bern bankruptcy law firm has said that the bill was passed unanimously.
This bill was presented by Hays High School Delegate Dylan Cousins, who is a senior.
Delegate Cousins says that this bill will enact a “small to medium increase in gas tax” to ensure that any family making under 125,000 a year will be able to attend a two to four year program at any Texas public college for free given that they are residents in the state of Texas, take 30 credits per calendar year, and plan to stay and work in Texas following their graduation for the same amount of time they were apart of the program.
Delegate Cousins claims that “we need to reduce student debt”, and that the state will do so by implementing the tax previously mentioned on gas. Cousins says that his bill “closely mirrors legislation in New York” and current practices at Rice University in Houston, Texas. The tax will be determined by the Texas Education Agency, who will evaluate the cost of implementing the bill and instruct the Texas comptroller to raise the gas tax to cover the costs, as stated in Cousins bill. Cousins also says that it “is of vital importance to the state” that the TEA reports these projected costs. To fluctuate accordingly with changes in the economy, the TEA will re-evaluate the cost and if necessary propose a change in the legislature.
Cousin argued that an increase in gas tax would “give Texas better education and will reduce student debt.”
Cousin added that the bill will only apply two or four-year public colleges, excluding private universities.
Delegate Nambala from Vista Ridge in support of the bill agreed that “we won’t have much pain, but mostly gain after passing or re-evaluation” of the bill.
Delegate Cousins said that the benefit of the reduced bachelor’s degree will benefit the lower class to a greater effect. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “college graduates, on average, earned 56% more than high school grads in 2015”.
This act shall take effect beginning the 2022-2023 school year for all public universities.
By Sierra Jackson
During Committee three, delegate Sangmin Yi,of Cedar Park High School,12, presented a bill declaring the homeless shelters that were currently being run publicly and privately to be reformed into a center where they will be able to learn basic and/or advanced skills used to achieve employment and rehabilitation. The bill was passed 10:0.
“I saw that if you just keep it as homeless shelters, the cycle is going to keep continuing where people are going get off their feet and try to become independent again, only to fall back into poverty because they don’t have the right skills or environment,” Yi said.
Yi argued, “by changing homeless shelters to homeless rehabilitation centers, it can provide them with an environment where they can join back the economy and society.”
Additionally, Yi added that adding a rehabilitation component to homeless shelters would eventually “boost the economy because businesses can make donations to these centers and they will get first choice of picking people to work for their business.”
Although the bill was voted in unanimously, there was an amendment added. The amendment states that private shelters should not be included to this bill because they do not receive federal funding. The amendment was passed with a 9:0 ratio.
By Christina Thies
A bill proposing the addition of an “other” or third gender option to state-issued driver’s licenses was killed in Committee Three session at Youth and Government District Conference. Delegate Alex Watson, 9, authored and presented the bill in hopes that it would provide the idea of inclusiveness into this critical identification. The overall idea of this bill was to refrain from classifying based off of sex, and instead provide a gender non-conforming option.
The bill was defeated 6 to 5.
Watson stated the idea behind his bill came from his participation in the GSA club at his high school.
“Through many stories shared by many members who have struggled with the discomfort of choosing a set gender, [I was able to grasp] the idea that something needed to be done,” Watson said.
The opponents of the bill stated, “It would be more difficult for law enforcement and the judicial branch to identify individuals in the case of an accident”. Additional opposition cited possible increases in fraud as a reason this bill should not be passed. Some opponents expressed concern with the third gender creating unfair treatment, which could possibly alienate a group of people.
Watson argued it was a fundamental human right that people should be able to choose how they are perceived in society. Supporters of Watson said, “It should not be up to the government to choose how individuals are represented, but the individuals themself.”
Although the bill did not pass, Watson continues to advocate for non-conforming rights.