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Youth advise state lawmakers

The Colorado Youth Advisory Council (COYAC) students make their second trip of the legislative session to the Capitol this week, and they've been busy preparing for their time with the legislators. The legislative youth council has capacity for 40 students from across the state and is officially recognized by the legislature to advise it on issues important to Colorado youths.

The high school students on COYAC study legislation already proposed during the session and, after discussion and debate, they decide whether or not to weigh in on those bills. The youth council members have also worked on the drafting and development of legislative efforts that they've proposed on a variety of topics.

New members will be selected for next school year by the current COYAC students based on applications received from interested students. We've been fortunate to have great representation on the council from different communities in southwestern Colorado, and I encourage any interested student to visit COYAC's website at www.coyac.org.

This session, COYAC's involved in renewing legislation establishing the council. Many of the students who started COYAC, five years ago, are now out in the real world, either working or in college. It's my hope, as the original sponsor of the legislation creating COYAC, that we'll begin seeing some of COYAC's "graduates" choose to go into public service at whatever level may interest them.

Other projects COYAC members have been working on this year are: developing a follow up survey of students across the state that will help shape the council's future priorities and focus and further work on the teen suicide prevention effort begun last year.

The youth council members also have been instrumental in helping the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court review over 1,150 applications from younger students seeking to be a part of the celebration of the new Colorado Judicial Center, opening on May 2. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will be at the opening and meeting that morning with those 100 students selected in an informal and rare opportunity for young people to interact with a justice from the highest court of our nation.

The new state judicial center is named after former Colorado governor Ralph L. Carr, a Republican, who, during World War II, forfeited his future political career by welcoming U.S. citizens of Japanese descent to Colorado at a time when they faced intense prejudice and relocation efforts solely because of their heritage. There's an enlightening educational exhibit at the History Colorado museum, located a block from the Capitol, that gives visitors an interactive perspective of the 1940's Japanese American internment camp located at Camp Amache, near Granada in southeastern Colorado.

In addition to having the pleasure of working with Colorado's youth on COYAC, my extracurricular activities include being a legislative board member for History Colorado, the statewide historical organization. The new History Colorado museum is located two blocks from the Capitol, with much to see. A current exhibit is "Jefferson's Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," which provides a fascinating look at the perspective and views of one of our nation's founding fathers. If you find yourself in Denver this spring, there's much to see and enjoy.

Finally, I want to join many others in wishing Rep. Mike McLachlan a speedy recovery and return to the legislature!

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado's General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884, or email ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.

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