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Teens get inside look at governing


Greenfield Recorder 01/25/2014, Page C01

Legislators plant seeds of leadership at Youth Forum


GREENFIELD — Area teens and politicians found out they have a lot to learn from each other at the 12th annual Youth Legislative Forum Friday.

“The quality of the questions, and the diversity of the issues on your minds really struck me,” State Senator Stanley Rosenberg told the teens he’d spent the evening talking to.

“I expected most of the questions to center around education, because that’s where you people are in life, but there were a wide range of topics in the groups I spoke with,” he continued.

About 30 area teens came out to meet with state senators and representatives, legislative aids, and one small-town selectman. They formed small groups, sat in circles, and had some frank discussions with people in power.

They discussed topics from standardized testing to road repairs, and teen drug use to gay marriage rights.

State Rep. John Scibak gave the students a lesson in billion-dollar budgets when one asked about a plan to use $31 million of state money for equipment to operate a proposed passenger rail line in the Pioneer Valley.

“Thirty-one million dollars may seem like a huge number, but it’s nothing out of a $38 billion budget,” said Scibak.

He said it’s more a matter of convincing the Senate Ways and Means Committee that the project needs to be funded.

“Meeting with the Ways and Means Committee is like being a kid again and going to ask Santa for things,” said Scibak. The committee won’t say “yes” or “no” right off, you’ve got to wait.

The teens wondered whether those requests are for specific items or general needs.

“It could be something as general as another $5 million for schools, or as specific as $50,000 to replace one museum’s doors,” Scibak explained. “(The committee) tries to prioritize things, and be fair.”

Many of the teens said they were surprised with how down-to-earth and accessible the politicians were.

They got to have an audience with state senators Rosenberg and Benjamin Downing, representatives Scibak and Paul Mark, Buckland Selectman Cheryl Dukes, and Rep. Denise Andrews’ legislative aid, Brian Eno.

“It was amazing to be here and talk to our legislators,” said Laurana Bohannon, 17, of Greenfield. “Most of the time, people our age and their ideas are discredited.”

Bohannon was encouraged to see others her age take advantage of an audience with state lawmakers.

“It was great to have people here that have a say in government,” she said. “Politics is a passion of mine. It gives you a way to voice your concerns, and give and get opinions.”

Rosenberg encouraged the youths to keep communicating with legislators via social media and email, and reminded them that it won’t be too long before they can hold office themselves.

“Benjamin Downing was first elected to (state) senate when he was 25,” said Rosenberg, gesturing to the young congressman, also in attendance. “Let him be an object lesson to you.”