Youth council bill would give young Vermonters a voice in the Statehouse
The Vermont Legislature is debating a bill that would set up a Youth Council to help the governor and lawmakers better understand the perspective of younger Vermonters.
Delilah Kramer, 18, who is a senior at Mt. Mansfield Union High School, says there’s a lot going on out there in the world that concerns young people like her.
“You know, I grew up gay in a time where gay marriage was a bit of a debate ... so that I think made me a little bit more passionate about politics, and getting involved,” she said. “Similarly, you know, climate change, I don’t think you can go a day on Twitter without seeing an article about the new, horrible thing that’s happened climate-wise. So, I think young people are just inclined to be involved these days, with the amount of issues that affect us in our everyday lives.”
Kramer says that while there’s value in attending rallies and supporting advocacy work, the decisions that are made in Montpelier set the policy where real change happens.
And she thinks young people should have a seat at that table.
“Youth experience our education systems,” Kramer said. “Youth experience youth mental health crises. Youth experience the feeling of growing up in this world, the whole climate situation. So I think neglecting to consider youth perspectives when it comes to those things is kind of just missing a large piece of the puzzle."
"I think young people are just inclined to be involved these days, with the amount of issues that affect us in our everyday lives.”Delilah Kramer, Mt. Mansfield Union High School senior
Kramer was a member of a statewide advisory group that helped write a youth council bill that has already passed the House. It would set up a 28-member youth council, made up of people between the ages of 11 and 18 from every county.
The members would receive a stipend for their work, and produce reports for the governor and lawmakers. And the council would receive technical, legal, and administrative assistance from the Department and Health. It could hold public hearings, too.
“What it’s asking our governor to do, and the General Assembly to do, is to have real conversations with young people,” said Vermont Afterschool executive director Holly Morehouse. “When they come forward with ideas, really listen, and then really answer.”
Morehouse helped introduce the idea of bringing a youth council to Vermont, after hearing about a similar program in Finland.
Maine formed the first youth council in the U.S. in 2002, and there are about a dozen across the country today.
Morehouse hopes the council will help lawmakers and the Scott administration connect with the youth, and get more young people involved with the political process.
“I would like to see the sophistication of our young people, and engaging in these processes,” Morehouse said. “And being a part of democracy, and a part of state government and local government and policies. And being willing to engage and being solutions-driven. I think that’s, right, the ultimate goal of what we want to build here.”
There's been little opposition to the idea in the Statehouse so far.
The push to create the council comes after a local charter change, which would have allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections in Brattleboro, was vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott. Lawmakers failed to override the veto.
"... I think it’s really important to have a youth council for a sense of empowerment. And to encourage young people to participate in democracy but also to create a democracy that works for young people.”Una Fonte, Vergennes High School senior
Vergennes High School senior Una Fonte says she understands that just because this group of young people might get a chance to take part in the legislative process, it doesn’t mean they’ll get everything they want.
Fonte has already spent time in the Statehouse, advocating for a variety of issues and meeting with lawmakers.
“It can feel slow, and democracy can feel like this slog,” Fonte said. “This being said, I’m not going to stop pushing for bills to go passed, quicker. I think it's a thing that a lot of young people feel. We wish democracy would hurry up. And I think there’s a very important role of activists and young people, and people from all backgrounds to push democracy, and push the Legislature to move faster and I think this is a healthy part of democracy.”
Fonte is already 18, and while she’s spent time working on the youth council bill, she’s already too old to serve on it.
Still, it’s part of the work she says to make Vermont more fair and just for everyone.
“This is something I’m doing for the future of Vermont,” she said. “And for Vermont youth now, and in the future, to feel like they have a voice. To feel empowered in the state. And so I think it’s really important to have a youth council for a sense of empowerment. And to encourage young people to participate in democracy but also to create a democracy that works for young people.”
The youth council bill was voted out of the Senate Government Operations Committee, and is in Senate Appropriations, as it works its way to the Senate floor for a vote.