In 2008, former Rep. Ellen Roberts introduced House Bill 08-1157 to encourage student participation in the legislative process. She wanted students to “examine, evaluate and discuss the issues, interests and needs affecting Colorado youth, now and in the future, and to formally advise and make recommendations to elected officials regarding those issues.”
With the governor’s signature, the Colorado Youth Advisory Council, COYAC, was born, and I am happy to help the tradition continue by sponsoring three bills with Rep. Hugh McKean on the students’ behalf.
For a little background, COYAC has 40 student members representing each of the 35 Colorado Senate Districts, plus one voting member each from the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes, and three nonvoting, at-large members selected to ensure diversity on the council, with a special focus on rural representation.
The first bill, House Bill 22-1052, is legislation taking a look at school safety and student mental health.
Almost every public school student in the state carries an ID card that they use to enter sporting events, attend school dances, buy food and snack bars and sometimes just enter school.These cards are already required to show the phone number for the very successful Safe2Tell program, so students can anonymously report anything that concerns or threatens them, their friends, family or community.
Now, these students want to add information about the Colorado Crisis Service’s hotline, which offers 24-hour access to mental health assistance, no matter where students live. CCS also offers materials for students without IDs, and can share their resources with families and schools.
Mental health is an enormous issue with our students, growing worse during the pandemic. Suicide is the leading cause of death for youths in Colorado and is especially prevalent in rural areas.
We passed the bill out of the Public and Behavioral Health and Human Services Committee, and hope it will soon reach the governor’s desk.
The second bill, Senate Bill 22-008, recognizes an often-overlooked student population, foster children, and their struggles to earn a postsecondary degree or certification.
This legislation offers these students free undergraduate tuition in public higher education institutions and asks the schools to designate an employee to serve as a liaison to help students navigate the maze of paperwork. The schools have agreed to waive tuition and fees for these youths.
In Colorado, about 30% of foster youths graduate from high school within six years. Of those, just 13% go to college and just 3% of them graduate. We hope this gives students the opportunity for advancement they thought they would never have.
Senate Bill 22-014 concerns the actual selection of the COYAC board. Students wanted to tweak the appointment process and leadership structure, offer opportunities to participate remotely and require the COYAC chairperson and vice-chairperson be appointed by the president of the Senate and speaker of the House.
We are so lucky to have powerful and thoughtful student voices leading the way to student success.
Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, is serving her third term representing La Plata, Archuleta, San Juan, Ouray, Hinsdale and Gunnison counties. She has been a journalist and teacher.