Sophomore Sam Kelner will realize his dream of encouraging young people to participate in government if Congress passes a bill intended to strengthen the youth voice on Capitol Hill.
The Samuel Kelner Commission on Youth Authorization would allow eight students 18 years old and younger to advise Congress on issues affecting today’s youth. The proposal is sponsored by Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.).
The legislation strives to improve low voter turnout among young people, Ramstad said at a July 25 press conference. He said 28 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds voted in 2000 and 20 percent voted in 1998. The commission would work with representatives to boost those numbers.
The group of students would also tackle other issues affecting young people, including drug abuse, violence, minimum wage, higher education financing and public education.
Four participants would be selected by President George W. Bush, while minority and majority leaders from the House of Representatives and Senate would have one appointee if the program passes. The six appointees would serve one-year terms and would be eligible for re-appointment until their 19th birthday. Students could come from any state.
The students would meet five times a year during three-day meetings and one week conference. During the meetings students would put together a report of recommendations to Congress on issues affecting youth.
“The youth of today will inherit all our decisions tomorrow, let them be part of that dialogue that makes our democracy great,” Kelner wrote in an e-mail.
The bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Education Reform from the House Committee on Education and Workforce June 20. The subcommittee is still finalizing the details of the bill.
If the Samuel Kelner Commission on Youth passes, $100,000 each year will be appropriated until 2006, when the commission expires. Kelner said Ramstad expects the bill to pass with few obstacles and reach President George W. Bush’s desk following the August recess.
Kelner’s idea first gained approval when his hometown Plymouth, Minn., school board implemented a similar plan. The publicity of his successful campaign for a youth advisory board brought it to the attention of Plymouth City Councilwoman Judy Johnson, who successfully lobbied her colleagues to pass it unanimously.
“In my school district students were going unheard on many key issues and I promised them that I would work to increase the amount of power students had in the decision making process,” Kelner said. “I would love to see (the commission) through the first year, possibly as a liaison.”
As a Minnesota Boys’ State governor, Kelner went to Boys’ Nation in July 1999, where boys from high schools across the country learn about the operation of federal government and the legislative process. The boys pose as senators and participate in senate proceedings. There he proposed his idea of a president’s national youth commission to the Boys Nation Senate. The legislation passed 96-0.
Ramstad said he also participated in a program that helped him realize his own political ambitions.
“Little did I realize that one of our Boys’ Nation class of 1963, a fellow 17-year-old from Hope, Ark., would become president of the United States,” Ramstad said about Bill Clinton. “That remarkable week also included a visit with President (John F.) Kennedy at the White House where he congratulated our class for passing a resolution supporting the Civil Rights Act and admonished us to stay involved in public service.”
Kelner said the idea for the youth commission bill won the approval of former President Bill Clinton and Ramstad, who later said he would introduce the bill to Congress.
“Congress and the president need to hear the dreams and visions of the young men and women who will lead our country in the decades to come,” Ramstad said at the press conference. “By passing this legislation, we can keep President Kennedy’s legacy alive as we pass the torch to the next generation of Americans.”