"The reward of esteem, respect and gratitude (is) due," wrote Thomas Jefferson, "to those who devote their time and efforts to render the youths of every successive age fit governors for the next." Jefferson recognized that each new generation of young people would need to be taught the importance of civic duty, and that we would need to empower them with the ability to one day take over as the leaders of our country.
Kendallville Mayor Suzanne Handshoe has also recognized that it is socially imperative to involve youth in government. The Kendallville city council has a youth advisory council that allows people younger than 18 years to serve as non-voting advisors to their municipal legislative body.
Currently, there are more than 40 communities across the state, including Kendallville and New Haven that have a Mayor's Youth Advisory Council. Members of these councils have provided important advocacy and feedback on this program, and I would like to see this program continued throughout the state.
To achieve this goal, I authored legislation to allow the presiding officer of a city or town council to appoint someone less than 18 years old to serve as a non-voting advisor to a municipal legislative body. The bill would also create an advisory council to the General Assembly concerning issues of importance to youth. The Department of Education would facilitate the 22-member youth council, and the state superintendent of public instruction would supervise it.
The bill has passed the full House of Representatives and the Senate Committee on Elections and Local Government. It now moves to the full Senate, and if no amendments are added, it will then proceed to the governor's desk to be signed into law.
Collectively, we share the responsibility to inspire the next generation of leaders. By expressly granting the presiding officer of a city or town council the ability to appoint a youth member as an adviser, we are extending youth the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way in local government. Experience demonstrates that when youth are engaged in civic activity, there are a variety of very positive benefits for them, their families and the communities they serve.