In June of this year, I had the opportunity to attend my very first Florida 4-H Legislature session. Although I grew up as a Florida 4-H’er and heard this event mentioned over the years, I never knew what it was or attended; something I deeply regret in retrospect!
Florida 4-H Legislature, often referred to as “Leg” (pronounced “ledge”), is a mock legislative session held every summer in Tallahassee at the state capitol. Youth spend a month or two beforehand writing bills and developing platforms to lobby amongst each other. Attending youth may serve as lobbyists, media representatives, house representatives, or state senators. While in attendance, these youth perform all the duties that an actual person in their position would, in the capitol building! They sit at the desks of the state representatives and even get to use the buttons for the voting system. Lobbyists spend the week visiting with representatives to express their concerns on bills and media representatives sit in on sessions, conduct interviews, and take pictures and video to report the status of the legislative session in a newsletter each day.
What amazed me the most about Leg was the topics these kids were debating. I thought that it would be silly stuff or legislature for the Florida 4-H bylaws. Boy, was I wrong. While I was at Leg, I heard discussion on topics from the decriminalization of marijuana, to incentivizing teachers to wear body cameras, to gun control. I was absolutely in awe at the courage of our youth to broach and challenge such controversial topics. Beyond that, I was genuinely impressed by the research these youth had done to argue their sides of each bill. They had sound, evidence-based reasoning to back their stances and debated in a poised and professional manner.
Not only did I witness these youth exhibit amazing research and communication skills, but the comradery, y’all. For a couple of days during the week, I served as a “page”. My job was to sit in the House or Senate Chamber and basically pass notes between senate and house representatives. Keep in mind, you have representatives in the house and senate promoting the same bills, so I was also running notes between chambers so that representatives for the same platform could stay in communication with one another and up to date on what was taking place in the other chamber. As an adult, I was responsible for reading notes to make sure they were appropriate and on topic as well. These kids were exhibiting amazing teamwork skills; helping one another and strategizing via written notes. There’s truly no greater demonstration of teamwork than to accomplish goals in different rooms with no contact with the other person beyond a hand-written note!
Ultimately, my experience at Leg was awesome. It was amazing to see our youth communicating and operating at such a high level and to see them having FUN doing it. I heard so many high school students saying how they thought that it would be silly to attend an event like Leg at first, but that it had had such a huge impact on them, from the skills they had gained to the friends they had made through the years. This year, we had two Sumter County youth attend. Here is what they had to say about it:
“My first 4–H Legislature trip will be one to remember! At first, I didn’t want to go because I was afraid of not knowing anybody else. I made friends from day one and learned a lot about the legislative process. I look forward to next year and can’t wait to go back!” – Kylar P.
“4-H Legislature is a great opportunity to get involved in 4-H. You get to participate in mock trials, pass bills on the floor, and even sit at the Senators’ and Representatives’ desks! It’s a great way to network with youth members and guest speakers to see what they do for Florida and how they represent all of the counties in our state.” – Lizzie S.
I would LOVE to take more than two of our Sumter County 4-H’ers with me to Leg next year! Parents, I hope you can see the value of this experience in my article. 4-H’ers, talk to Lizzie and Kylar about their experiences. I know that events like these can sound like they’ll be lame and that it can be hard to go out of town for a week with a bunch of people you don’t know. I’m telling y’all… the kids at these events are genuinely having FUN. If you go, you WILL make friends and you WILL have a good time. But, most importantly, you will gain skills and experiences that will be invaluable to you as an adult and make memories that you will cherish for a lifetime!
I hope you’ll consider attending 4-H Legislature with me next year!