Students earn experience in Youth Legislature

Published 8:04 am Monday, March 7, 2011

A group of government-minded students from Pike Liberal Arts School and Charles Henderson High School attended the YMCA Youth Legislature Conference in Montgomery over the weekend and two students were elected to Conference offices.

Garrett Herring was elected Secretary of State and Lauren Wiggins was elected a justice of the Supreme Court. Both will serve at the Alabama Youth in Government Youth Legislative Conference in Montgomery in February 2012.

Herring said he is looking forward to serving as Secretary of State but learned volumes about government by participating in the 63rd Youth Legislature Conference.

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“What I really enjoyed was the debates on the bills before the Legislature,” Herring said. “I had an opportunity to debate some of the bills but all of the bills were interesting and important.”

The Legislature passed a bill allowing gay marriages.

“I was for that,” Herring said laughing. “Everybody has a right to be unhappy. Really, everybody should have the right to get married.

“We voted to legalize POT because it’s a $17 billion a year industry. For the past three years, the Youth Legislature has passed this bill but the governor has vetoed it every year.”

The Legislature upheld the illegality of abortion but Herring said he is pro-abortion under certain circumstances.

“We also passed a bill that has to do with clean air,” he said. “The bill stated that 25 percent of Alabama’s power must be nuclear power, 10 percent hydroelectric and 15 percent from other renewable resources. We passed a bill dealing with the theory of intelligent design that is basically a religious theory that says the universe was not randomly created but created by intelligent design.

Wiggins was equally was fascinated by the Youth Legislature Conference and excited about the opportunity to serve on the Supreme Court.

“It’s the Supreme Court’s duty to interpret the laws and that is very challenging,” she said. “What the justices have to do is make sure that no bills violate the constitutions of the state of Alabama or the United States.”

One ruling that the Supreme Court had to make was on euthanasia, which is the act of killing someone painlessly, especially someone suffering from an incurable illness.

“Euthanasia was declared unconstitutional because the constitutions don’t give anyone the right to die,” Wiggins said. “Another ruling was on the castrating of habitual sex offenders. That was found unconstitutional because it was considered cruel and unusual punishment.”

Wiggins said that she had not realized how really difficult it must be for judges on all levels to make decisions.

“Judges have to interpret the law and that interpretation might not be in accordance with their personal beliefs,” she said. “Judges have to put aside their personal feelings and act within the interpretation of the law. And, too, I didn’t realize how many gray areas there are in the law, such as deciding what is actually cruel and unusual punishment.”

For Wiggins, one of the most inspiring aspects of the Conference with the opportunity to go in the deliberation room of the Alabama Supreme Court and take the oath of office.

“Which Justice Parker said is legally binding,” she said.

Both Herring and Wiggins were impressed by the diverse groups from all across the state that attended the conference.

“A delegation of college students from Kazakhstan was there,” Herring said. “They wanted to observe our conference because they are tying to develop a similar program for the youth in their country.”

The youth legislature program in Kazakhstan targets college age students.

“They want to involve high school students and their delegation said Alabama has one of the best youth legislature conferences,” Wiggins said.

Charles Henderson High School participated in the conference for the first time with six government students attending: Emily Melton, Alison Lecroy, Mollie Kate McGowin, Cinnamon Wilson, Alexis Seymore and Stevien Baxter, all of whom are seniors.

“This was a real learning experience for our students,” said Lynn Melton, advisor for the group. “The students were able to see what all is involved in writing and debating bills and challenging the constitutionality of bill. We plan to recruit more students for next year’s conference because participation is outstanding first-hand experience.”

Emily Melton served on the state Supreme Court and found it to be a tremendous learning experience.

“I had the privilege of serving as a Supreme Court Justice at Youth Legislature,” Melton said. “Bills written by the delegates could be sent to the Court for constitutional challenges. The court heard arguments from both the Attorney General and the patron of the bill, then researched the constitution and deliberated the issue.

“This experience exposed me to not only the legislative process, but the judicial process as well. This was an enlightening experience and would recommend this conference to any student interested in government.”