Students from five schools throughout the 26th Senate District joined State Senator Dan McConchie for a unique, hands-on learning experience about state government at the spring meeting of McConchie's Fourth Annual Youth Advisory Council on Wednesday, March 11.
"Every year when I host this event, I am so impressed by the students our high schools are nominating," said Sen. McConchie. "This program gives students the experience not just to meet their legislators, but to interact with them and experience the legislative process. I like to think that the experience may help them develop an interest in public service."
The all-day event was hosted in the Lake County Courthouse's ceremonial courtroom in Waukegan. Students in attendance were nominated by teachers and principals from their schools. Many also participated in the fall portion of the annual program, where they worked together to craft a legislative proposal to debate at the spring meeting.
Throughout the day, students heard not only from Sen. McConchie, but also from several other speakers including Mike Nerheim, Lake County State's Attorney, John Idleburg, Lake County Sheriff, Boomer the Lake County K9, Diane Winter, Lake County Chief Judge and Christen Bishop, Lake County Judge.
Students also had the opportunity to visit Lake County's Substance Use Recovery Court to see how the program works. Drug courts give offenders a chance to plead guilty and enter a program, which usually lasts a year and a half or longer, after which successful participants "graduate" to regular probation. If they can comply with the program, they stay out of jail.
After the morning speakers, the students spent the afternoon participating in a mock legislative committee hearing to debate the issue they had selected at their fall meeting. As part of the committee simulation, students took on the various roles involved in the real process of passing laws, including serving as lawmakers, lobbyists, concerned citizens, and even members of the media.
"My favorite part was getting to be the committee chair because I got to give my input on the bill and guide the process," said Carolynne Burke from Mundelein High School. "I think it's important for kids to understand the political process."
"My favorite part of the day was getting to experience what drug court was like, and getting to see the testimonies from people who have come so far after hitting rock bottom," said Cody Berger from Trinity Oaks Christian Academy, "It opened up my eyes to see that when people have the will, they have a way to change."
After detailed discussion, debate, and impassioned testimony, the students on the committee ultimately voted to reject a proposal to implement a plastic bag tax that would generate revenue to research an alternative to single-use plastic bags.