Youth for Justice

In the second week of the Wyoming Legislature in February, Cody students lobbied legislators as part of Youth for Justice. 

A group of student lobbyists supported six bills, five of which passed, during the Wyoming legislative session. 

Cody High School’s Youth for Justice program is, as the program’s sponsor Deb White said, the “most educational activity I have ever done with students.” 

YFJ began as a social studies project that blossomed into something more after tragic circumstances. After a student died in a car rollover, White and several students began lobbying for a secondary seat belt law. After two years of finding sponsors, creating media and lobbying at the legislature in Cheyenne, Brandon’s Law was passed.

“I got involved in YFJ because I had students who wanted to make a change,” White said. “I spent 30 years teaching high school science in Cody, and I had a student member of my teen leadership group die in a single car rollover when he was thrown from the car. Wyoming was one of just two states that did not require the use of seat belts.”

Despite White originally teaching physics and YFJ being a social studies project about studying state government and civics, he said the way students prepare for Cheyenne is very similar to processes in science. White also said that despite the program inherently involving studying, public speaking and politics, every student who participates enjoys it.

“It is the scientific method in action – they identify a problem that needs solving, research options, create media, become educated on the subject and then travel to Cheyenne as the experts to educate adult legislators,” White said. “Every student I have ever taken has loved it and many have become passionate about politics and making change.”

Among the many bills and amendments that Youth for Justice has supported in the past 22 years includes the Zero Tolerance Bill, Cyber Bullying Bill, Texting While Driving Bill, Jason Flatt Act (suicide prevention training for youth) and Various Hathaway Scholarship bills. With a close to equal amount of passed and failed bills, Youth for Justice is very successful as a group of youth and student advocates. 

This year, YFJ attended the session Feb. 16-18. Five bills YFJ supported were passed. Senate File 50, which raised the age for tobacco purchase in Wyoming to 21, making Wyoming consistent with federal law changes by the Trump Administration in December. House Bill 48 involved amendments to Wyoming’s laws on voyeurism, which was cosponsored by Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody). HB 32 will allow for family members of active duty military to receive in-state tuition if the military parent was moved out of Wyoming and the family went with them, which was cosponsored by Sen. Hank Coe (R-Cody). SF 4 will allow individuals to donate additional money to wildlife conservation projects with their license plates, and SF 18 will provide for voluntary donations to wildlife projects. 

The only bill YFJ supported that didn’t pass was SF 42, a bill that would require anyone selling nicotine products in Wyoming to verify the age of the purchaser, as well as more clearly define electronic cigarettes under Wyoming law. The bill failed to make the deadline for introduction on the House side.

“It was one of our best years, because of how many bills we supported, how many of them passed and just how many of us went to Cheyenne this year,” senior Duncan McLeod said.

McLeod, who got involved in YFJ in his freshman year after to taking Deb White’s science class, said the program was educational, challenging and got students out of their shells. 

Aside from doing research on the various topics and bills, YFJ also helps teach kids the practical methods of advocacy and assists with public speaking and persuasive arguments. McLeod said that the trip to Cheyenne was great, not just because of participating in the legislative session but also because the students getting to hang out with each other.

“I thought the trip was great,” McLeod said. “Everyone was really cool. We had a long trip to bond with one another and get ready. Once we got there, we had a great time, in the session and outside of it.”

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