Dozens of students from across State Sen. Jason Barickman’s (R-Bloomington) district came to the Illinois Capitol on April 11 to learn firsthand about passing legislation.
“These students potentially represent the next generation of lawmakers and leaders,” said Sen. Barickman. “I believe we can engage them in the process now so that they realize that they can have a real impact on their government and their communities.”
The visit was part of Sen. Barickman’s Youth Advisory Council, a program that invites high school students to learn about and become involved in government.
“I think it’ll definitely help when it comes to communicating, later in life if I want to go into politics, it will definitely give me a jumpstart there,” said Eureka High School student Joel Baer. “It’s just interesting to see everything going on, and I think later on, I will be able to know how to make a bigger difference in my community.”
“My favorite part was getting to go around and go into the chambers and see everything, see how they do their business, and then getting to do the committee and see how it actually works in real life,” said Hoopeston Area High School student Daniel Bass. “I want to go into political science, so being able to see how it truly works, seeing if it’s something I would be passionate about, is going to help me in the long run.”
The students met during the fall to propose and debate ideas for new legislation. On April 11, they held a mock committee hearing on their legislation – a bill dealing with school funding – at the Capitol.
“I thought it was interesting because people have their own perspectives and you have to kind of keep that in mind when you’re dealing with politics. It was hard to sway people’s opinions and I can see how it’s hard to find a middle because there’s so many things that you have to put into consideration when coming up with laws,” said Watseka Community High School student Allyssa Sorenson. “I think this has made me more interested in politics and reading the news and getting more involved in issues because they do hit home and it affects me.”
Before the committee hearing, students heard from lawmakers, General Assembly staff, a veteran lobbyist and a statehouse reporter. The students took on those jobs during the hearing, debating for and against their proposed legislation.
“My favorite part of today was being a lawmaker and just going around and trying to swing votes my way,” said Watseka Community High School student Noah Burger. “I want to go into politics someday and I think this was very beneficial and it helped me get a new perspective on it. Seeing it from the inside is a lot different than seeing it from the outside.”
“As a lobbyist, I had to know the facts of a situation and had to be able to present those in a way that caused people to see my side and agree with me, and vote in that direction,” said Normal Community West High School student Danielle Cross. “There’s a variety of different views and learning to respect those views and taking those into consideration, and just being able to witness all of that coming together and seeing how our government actually works, that was really inspiring.”
“It was a great experience to get to argue for something that I believed in and to see other people’s sides of it. You can’t just take a hard stance and expect people to fall into it, you have to see what you believe and take what other people believe and make it work so everyone can get what’s right for them,” said Normal Community student Kimberly Halm. “Definitely improved my talking skills and it made me really focus on the points that I wanted to argue on, and I had to analyze very quickly the arguments that people were throwing at me, bouncing ideas off of each other, thinking of new things.”
Eventually students worked to amend their legislation in the hope of garnering more votes for passage. It wasn’t enough however, as a majority of the students serving as lawmakers voted “no” on the bill.
“We saw the students work together on both sides of the bill and negotiate to try to find a middle ground, the hallmarks of the legislative process,” said Sen. Barickman. “I hope they learned a lot about compromise and cooperation, and I think they also learned how difficult it can be to actually pass an idea into law.”