Letter to the Editor

Stay involved

Wednesday, January 20, 2016
TJ Foley

Every four years Iowa becomes the political center of the nation due to our first in the nation caucuses. Between debates, rallies, potlucks and meet-and-greets it's easy for Iowans to lose track of upcoming political events. As a result, many have forgotten that the political affair that most directly impacts the lives of everyday Iowans has already taken place. That's right, the legislators have already come back to Des Moines. Although it appears to have flown under the radar for many, one group has been diligently preparing our positions to pitch to elected officials. To the surprise of many, a majority of us are not even old enough to vote.

The State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council (SIYAC) became a formal council in 2009 with the passage of legislation (Iowa Code 216A.140.8). SIYAC is a nonpartisan policy advising organization comprised of 21 youth ages 14-20 from across Iowa who serve two-year terms as members. We advocate for youth on important issues affecting youth. As the Executive Chairperson of SIYAC, I have the immense privilege of leading this group of optimistic young advocates this year as we attempt to move our state forward through legislation and service.

On Dec. 8, we voted to approve seven issues, some of which have previously been debated in the Legislature, that cover a wide range of subjects but can be broken down into three areas: health, human rights, and education.

Starting in the health area, we propose to improve the mental health of Iowa's youth by developing a comprehensive plan to train teachers about the warning signs of suicide and to streamline state and school responses when tragedy strikes. We have also decided to tackle the issue of adolescent cancer by approving a ban on tanning beds for minors, which is a proven cause of such diseases as melanoma and must be addressed when considering the health of our children. Finally, we decided to advocate for mandatory radon testing in schools. Radon is a proven carcinogen that exists in alarmingly high quantities in every Iowa county. This bill would require testing and remediation of high radon concentrations in all public schools.

In the area of human rights, we will pursue a curriculum requirement regarding sexual violence and consent in an attempt to decrease the skyrocketing rates of sexual assault seen across the country. Additionally, we have also voted to ban the heinous practice of gay conversion therapy for minors, which is a scientifically unfounded and morally bankrupt practice unbecoming of our great state.

Finally, we have maintained our focus on education by voting for a comprehensive plan to reduce high school dropout rates. This plan increases the minimum high school dropout age, commissions studies to use taxpayer money more effectively, and bolsters local control regarding drop out policy. Iowa is an educational model for the nation, but we can do better. This plan attempts to do just that. We have also voted to endorse a bill to protect all of Iowa's students from bullying both in person and online. This comprehensive measure has bipartisan support and is a common sense solution that protects all of Iowa's children.

The voice of youth is often silent in politics, but SIYAC demonstrates that youth do have a voice and legislators listen. This year we are confident that we can move legislation through the Iowa General Assembly to Governor Branstad's desk, but it is important for all of us to be engaged, so study the issues that interest you and get involved in the political process and speak to your legislators about the issues that are important to you. We are privileged to have a government that is responsible to the people: let's utilize that power and move our state forward this year. SIYAC will be there, will you?

TJ Foley

West Des Moines

State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council Executive Chair