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Roberts advocating for Legislative Youth Advisory Council
10/5/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
Young people approaching voting age need to be lured into taking more interest in government, State Rep. Ellen Roberts told Pine River Rotary Club members on Sept. 26.
She advised her big interest for 2008 - her second year in the state legislature - will be creation of a statewide Legislative Youth Advisory Council. Six states and some towns already have them, she said.
The council would decide which bills are priorities for youth. “They would advise us of the youth perspective, come in and testify.”
Roberts continued, “One of the best experienes I had shadowing Mark Larson (her predecessor) was actually working on a bill. If we are going to do a youth council bill, we need youth involvement with it - high school, home school, charter school - to help draft the bill. We’ll have the governor and lieutenant governor testify on the bill.”
She wants youth participants to define what age range the council should include. She thinks it should include college students. They will look at how the councils in the six other states are structured.
“The big issues are funding and where it will be housed,” Roberts said. “I want it to be sustainable, long-term. People who have worked with youth on civic engagement say it has to be meaningful for them.”
She hopes the end result of this “is the youth, parents, and teachers will see this is a process you can touch. ... The youth so far seem very excited. Ultimately the state-wide council, kids will apply to be on it. We want it to be a diverse group.”
But she added, “Being so far from Denver creates a difference in more ways than one. Some of this will probably involve the youth raising money to go there.”
She said, “There is so much coming down the road. The legislature only decides what to do with 24 percent of the money that comes in” to the state. The rest is already committed, a lot of it by ballot issues passed by voters. Some of those conflict.
Roberts said all those ballot issues reflect lack of trust in government.
“It’s my hope that if people see they can call me or (State Sen.) Jim Isgar, see state government respond...”
She lamented that, “People confuse us with what happens in Washington DC. They are concerned about lobbyist influence (in Congress), so they slap Amendment 41 on us,” with one result that children of public officials or public employees can’t accept college scholarships.
Roberts added that one-third of legislators are new (including her) because of term limits, also passed because voters don’t trust government.
“If you don’t trust government, why not?” she asked. She sees the youth council as a way to change some of that distrust.
On the proliferation of voter-approved amendments to the state constitution that hamstring the legislature on budgeting, Roberts said, “Constitutional reform is another one of my issues. One of the problems is that disconnect between the people and the government.”
Roberts said budgetary restrictions are one reason many legislators want to tap oil and gas severance taxes for various under-funded state needs, such as highways or higher education. Front Range legislators “are salivating” over that money, she said. Outnumbered Western Slope legislators work together as a block to fight that.
“We are very keenly aware of how many fingers are trying to get into that pot,” she said.
As for politicians and political parties themselves fostering distrust of government, she said, “It’s the responsibility of the people to put good people in office.” She noted that a lot of negative campaigning is from independent groups not controlled by the candidates.
She noted her pay as a state representative is $30,000 a year. “You don’t do it for the pay,” she said.
Roberts said she and Isgar don’t have actual office staff, although most people assume they do. They do have interns 20 hours a week. Roberts said she has three interns from Fort Lewis College, including her daughter, working on the youth advisory bill. She and Isgar like to have interns who have actually lived in this area, she said.
Roberts said she represents 67,000 people in four counties. Isgar represents eight counties. “We are bare-bones,” she said.