Youth council now helping prepare state’s future leaders

The Colorado Youth Advisory Council (COYAC) students make their second trip of the legislative session to the Capitol this week, and they’ve been busy preparing for their time with the legislators. The legislative youth council has capacity for 40 students from across the state and is officially recognized by the Legislature to advise it about issues important to Colorado youths.

The high school students on COYAC study legislation already proposed during the session and, after discussion and debate, decide whether to weigh in on those bills. The youth council members also have worked on the drafting and development of legislative efforts that they’ve proposed on a variety of topics.

New members will be selected for the next school year by the current COYAC students based on applications received from interested students. We’ve been fortunate to have great representation on the council from different communities in Southwest Colorado, and I encourage any interested student to visit www.coyac.org.

This session, COYAC is involved in renewing legislation establishing the council. Many of the students who started COYAC five years ago are now in the real world, either working or attending college. It’s my hope, as the original sponsor of the legislation creating COYAC, that we’ll begin seeing some of COYAC’s “graduates” choose to be in public service at whatever level may interest them.

Other projects COYAC members have been working on this year are: developing a follow-up survey of students across the state that will help shape the council’s future priorities and focus, and further work on the teen-suicide prevention effort begun last year.

The youth council members also have been instrumental in helping the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court review more than 1,150 applications from younger students seeking to be a part of the celebration of the new Colorado Judicial Center, opening May 2. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will be at the opening and meeting that morning with those 100 students selected in an informal and rare opportunity for young people to interact with a justice from the highest court of our nation.

The new state judicial center is named after former Colorado governor Ralph L. Carr, a Republican who, during World War II, forfeited his future political career by welcoming U.S. citizens of Japanese descent to Colorado at a time when they faced intense prejudice and relocation efforts solely because of their heritage. There’s an enlightening educational exhibit at the History Colorado Center, two blocks from the Capitol, that gives visitors an interactive perspective of the 1940s Japanese American internment camp at Camp Amache, near Granada in southeast Colorado.

In addition to having the pleasure of working with Colorado’s youths on COYAC, my extracurricular activities include being a legislative board member for History Colorado, the statewide historical organization. The new History Colorado Center is two blocks from the Capitol, with much to see. A current exhibit is “Jefferson’s Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” which provides a fascinating look at the perspective and views of one of our nation’s founding fathers. If you find yourself in Denver this spring, there’s much to see and enjoy.

Finally, I want to join many others in wishing Rep. Michael McLachlan a speedy recovery and return to the Legislature.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Call Roberts at (303) 866-4884 or email ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.