Roughly 75 million Americans are under the age of 18, which sounds like a lot until you realize those kids are outnumbered four to one by adults. And those adults control everything. Occasionally, they’ll let kids weigh in, but more often, adults are too busy talking to (or over) each other to pay attention to anyone else. And there’s not much young people can do about that. Sure, kids can be loud (...so loud), but at some point, the size of the megaphone matters less than the size of the crowd.
The Big Takeaway
Anyone who’s ever been young — all of us, except vampires, maybe — can attest to the difficulties of communicating with someone much older than you are. It’s not about intelligence, or disrespect; it’s just fundamentally difficult to find common ground in a world that moves, and changes, so quickly. In everyday life, that’s frustrating, but it’s borderline dangerous in government, where lawmakers have the power to enact policies whose effects will be borne by young people who aren’t yet eligible to weigh in at the ballot box.
Politicians don’t seem to consider this, which is partly a function of an electoral system that rewards age and experience. Nationwide, the average state lawmaker is 56 years old, or more than three times the age of a high school senior. (Congress is even older.) Kids don’t vote or pay taxes, so lawmakers aren’t required to involve them in the legislative process, though some do. Typically, that’s after a controversy or tragedy, and those conversations rarely amount to much beyond photo ops and sound bites. Even when they’re invited to speak, kids are rarely heard.
Here’s a famous example: In 2018, survivors of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers. (The trip included a sit-down visit with then-President Donald Trump, who entered the room clutching a handwritten cheat sheet of tips on how to behave like an empathetic human.) The teens asked lawmakers for stricter gun control measures, demands that were echoed at youth-organized protests across the country. After sending thoughts and prayers, Republicans in Congress ignored the pleas in favor of a bill that increased school funding for metal detectors and security training; a tacit acknowledgement of the inevitability of more shootings.
A similar scene played out in Kentucky on Tuesday as a group of high school students met with lawmakers to recommend strategies to improve school safety. The suggestions, presented by members of the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council, came after months of research that began last summer in the wake of a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the Kentucky Lantern reported.
“Our main goal is to make sure that everyone's getting a quality education," said Joud Dahleh, who attends high school in Boone County and also serves as the student member of the state education board. “And you cannot have a quality education if you do not feel safe in your school building.”
The panel organized its suggestions in three sections, highlighting improvements that could make students feel safer before, during and after an emergency situation like a mass shooting. Recommendations included better promotion of an existing state tip line, improved training for school staff and first responders, and better access to mental health support in the wake of a tragedy.
Noticeably absent from the list: Go-to Republican school safety solutions like metal detectors, fancy door locks, more police officers and guns for teachers. Instead, students urged lawmakers to preempt mass shootings by supporting “gun legislation,” including strengthened background checks.
It’s a reasonable request for a group aiming to feel safer at school, which, in the political realm, means precisely nothing. State Rep. James Tipton admitted as much after the meeting, describing gun control as a “polarizing issue” that lawmakers should continue to “look at” and “study.”
“I don’t know what the probability of getting something like that passed here in Kentucky (is),” said Tipton, a Republican and chair of the House Education Committee. “It would be something that would be very difficult, but I think we still need to examine that issue.”
At least Tipton listened to the students before dashing their hopes, a pathetically low bar I am obligated to highlight now that lawmakers in Idaho are refusing to clear it. As of Tuesday, two state legislative committees have implemented rule changes to bar public testimony from anyone under the age of 18, freeing up more time for comments from “adults” and “taxpayers,” per the Idaho Capital Sun.
The policy was first adopted last week by the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee at the direction of state Rep. Bruce D. Skaug, who said the change was needed to prevent large groups of students from monopolizing the public comment period. That’s meant for grown-ups who pay bills, per Skaug, who chairs the committee.
“We have 16 year olds taking the place of 40 year olds,” he told Boise Weekly. “I just want some control. To be able to get the testimony of all the adults, taxpayers in the room.”
Teenagers can still testify, he added — if he invites them, that is.
The policy likely has less to do with time management than with Skaug’s legislative agenda, which is packed with controversial priorities like “banning gender confirmation surgery for kids even if their parents consent,” that tend to draw testimony from large crowds of opponents. It’s a defensive maneuver, and it’s not particularly subtle — but it could theoretically help lawmakers avoid hours of commentary they’ll ultimately ignore, so a second committee adopted the policy anyway.
“We will not hear testimony from individuals who are not at least 18 years and older,” state Rep. Barbara Ehardt said Tuesday before a meeting of the House Local Government Committee. “There would be the exception, and that is should they contact me, or should we be in a position where one of you [committee members] are desirous to hear them and, you know, you let me know.”
Ehardt, a Republican who sponsored a bill banning trans females from joining female sports teams, said she hoped the change would prevent classes of students from nearby schools from clogging up legislative hearings with testimony. Limiting comments to specific minors, she said, is a better “use of all of our time.”
Right. Allow me to propose some other ways for legislators to spend their time: Brushing up on state law, which prohibits age discrimination (both in general, and at public meetings)! Coming to grips with the political power of young voters! Attempting to understand the aging process (kids eventually become voting-age adults)! Be better at politics, is the gist!
“It really speaks volumes about where Republican legislators’ priorities lie, which is not in representing the will of their constituents,” said Shiva Rajbhandari, an 18-year-old Boise School District student and local school board member who began testifying at legislative hearings when he was 16. “Idaho students aren’t going to tolerate that. Many of us can’t vote, but we are not going to be kids forever, right? We will remember which legislators cared about our voices and which ones didn’t.”
They grow up so fast: Lawsuit says Alaska statute allowing public funding to go to private schools is unconstitutional … (Arizona) Parents of teen killed in accidental shooting hope ‘Christian’s Law’ will save lives ... Why school enrollment declines are a ‘significant concern’ in Hawaii … Missouri committee debates transgender sports, healthcare, drag shows for nine hours … Legislators, trans Montanans speak out against ‘Slate of Hate’ bills … Measures seek to change Nebraska’s new voter-approved minimum wage provisions … (New Hampshire) Health leaders are ‘cheerleading’ for childhood vaccines as student vaccination rates drop … Kindergarten vaccination rates trend downward as Ohio public health officials fight back
From The Newsrooms
One Last Thing
I’m pleased to report that I’m not the only one hoarding a massive collection of DVDs and Blu-Rays. We’ll live like queens when the streaming bubble pops!
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