Eleven students from the Burbank Community YMCA’s youth and government delegation held a dress rehearsal Wednesday in Burbank City Hall in preparation for a mock bill-hearing presentation in Sacramento in February.
The group offered arguments for and against three bills in front of an audience in the council chambers.
Each bill was outlined by its sponsor and underwent legislative analysis before a pro and con lobbyist responded.
There was also time for rebuttals and a bill summation before the audience voted on each bill.
Jeffry Stein sponsored a bill that would require “all park benches lose any attachments or additions that prohibit an individual from sleeping on them” as a way to combat homelessness.
Phoebe Kellogg’s bill looked to grant minors swift divorces “with little need for court approval,” while Harrison Rothacher sponsored a bill that would “put a limit on how much colleges could charge their students” as a way to lower student debt.
Stein noted that state bills in 2003 and 2015 set aside more than $2 million to help the homeless, but it has not been used because of concerns expressed by some residents.
“I designed my bill to dodge these loopholes, to be resistant to being smothered by what is occasionally an irritating bureaucracy,” Stein said.
He added that making benches available is not a “long-term solution” for homelessness, but it is needed to get momentum going on the issue.
Parker Swierczynki spoke against the measure, pointing out that he was in favor of helping the homeless, but said the bill was impractical.
“The clause in the bill that states that all these additions must be paid for by the state treasury would be a major drain on the state’s infrastructure budget,” Swierczynki said.
The audience agreed and verbally voted down the measure.
No measure garnered more attention than Kellogg’s, who said her bill was necessary because California has no minimum age for marriage and wedded underage minors needed protection.
“If you file for divorce when you’re under the age of 18 … you will receive a divorce from your partner whether they agree or not,” Kellogg said of her bill’s provisions. “The court is guaranteed to offer you a way out of what is more often than not a dangerous situation.”
While those against the bill argued instead for a ban on underage marriage, the crowd approved the measure.
The bill introduced by Rothacher included an anecdote — a student who he knew graduated with over $75,000 worth of debt.
“Student debt like that leads to college graduates not only being unable to buy homes, but students in debt are sometimes unable to pay rent or even buy groceries,” Rothacher said.
According to his bill, if a state public university charges more than a quarter of its student body higher than 150% the California poverty limit for in-state tuition or 200% for out-of-state tuition, a college would lose 30% in state funding for the year.
The bill was so controversial that two verbal votes did not establish a clear majority. A call by Leah Tahmassian, youth government president, for a standing vote led to a tight victory.
Of the three bills presented, Kellogg’s was selected to be presented by the Burbank delegation in Sacramento during the President’s Day weekend, Feb. 16 and 17. The goal is that the bill will eventually be voted on by both houses and signed by the governor.
“What I like most about this program is the transformation students undertake,” youth and government adviser Aileen Flores said. “A lot of students start off not wanting to speak in public. They don’t know about legislature or government, but here they find their voice.”