Students Deliver A Vision For D.C.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
If students ran the D.C. government, the city's tax on cigarettes would jump to $2.50 a pack.
That was one of the bills passed at this year's YMCA D.C. Youth and Government legislative session, held last weekend at American University. More than 100 high school students from D.C. public and charter schools gathered to debate 57 bills of their own creation and to elect a youth mayor for the next year.
Although the bills that pass through this legislative body are not entered into the D.C. Code, some may make their way into real law in the future. D.C. Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) offered to review the bills and possibly draft some for legislative action by the D.C. Council when he spoke at the group's youth summit last fall. YMCA spokespeople said they will send the bills not only to Brown but to the entire council, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the mayoral candidates.
Multiple bills called for improvements in Anacostia River cleanliness, school lunch quality, gang prevention programs and availability of sex education programs in schools. One measure called for banning all tobacco sales in the city.
Some of the more radical bills called for the use of chemical castration for sex offenders and capital punishment. They were not approved.
The D.C. Youth and Government program, now in its fourth year, is one of 44 established across the country by the YMCA to emulate state -- or, in the case of the District, city -- governments. City officials were absent from the conference last Friday but only because organizers had to turn down three council members who wanted to speak, according to founder and advisory board chairman Jason Reimer.
"We wanted to make sure the students made their voices heard," he said.
D.C. Youth Mayor Janeese Lewis, speaking like a seasoned politician at the podium, implored her fellow delegates to continue to be active in their community by pressing elected officials to listen and to work on issues that matter to youth.
"When you see city council members, don't let them just shake your hand. Ask them what they will do if you or your parents vote for them. Ask your parents who they are going to vote for or if they are even going to vote," she said.
Lewis, a 17-year-old senior at School Without Walls, feels particularly strongly about public housing, gentrification and school funding. It bothers her that long-term residents may not be able to afford rising property taxes and rents. She wonders whether she'll be able to afford to live here when she graduates from college.
During her opening remarks, Lewis railed against the city's commitment to baseball, at the expense, she said, of residents. "They are fixing up the area around the stadium and kicking out the people who live there," she said. "We want our grandparents to be able to live in the city they built."
Not surprisingly, the D.C. Gentrification Grandfather Clause was the bill Lewis supported with the most vigor. The measure would offer fixed property tax rates to D.C. citizens who have owned their homes for 10 years. The bill was one of six that passed.
The others were:
· Broadening the Horizons Act: Each school would have four career fairs each school year for students in grades 9 through 12.
· No "Draftation" without Representation Act: D.C. residents would be exempt from any military draft until they have a vote in Congress.
· Internship Opportunity Act: Three high school students would intern in a D.C. Council member's office each spring semester.
· Price of Pain Act: The tax on cigarettes would increase from $1 to $2.50 a pack.
· Special Request for Special Ed: At least five certified special education teachers would be employed at each school to teach academic subjects to students with special needs.
Rochelle Mincey-Thompson of Cardozo Senior High School was elected youth mayor for the coming school year.