Purpose of Program
“[Young people who have] civic education are more likely than other students to be able to interpret political information correctly, to discuss political issues with peers and adults, to monitor the news and to feel confident about their ability to speak in public. Additionally, students who have experienced interactive civic education show a better ability to clearly express their opinions, have better collaborative group skills and have a better ability to work in culturally diverse teams” https://www.districtadministration.com/article/why-teaching-civic-engagement-essential. According to Manual I for the 2017 Florida 4-H Legislature: The purpose of the Florida 4-H Legislature is to provide experiences that prepare 4-H members for leadership in the American democratic process. Each participant learns, practices and defends the theory and process of representing citizens and making public policy.
Size, Scope, and Content of Program
The first Florida 4-H Citizenship program was held in 1973. In 2017, the program celebrated 45 years. At least 150 youth attend the event each year, with anywhere between 25 and 70 lobbyists, typically first-year attendees. While in Tallahassee, the 4-H’ers are housed in dorms on the campus of Florida State University. Buses take the youth to the Capitol Building each day where they use committee rooms and the House and Senate Chambers. Lobbyists also visit the Florida Museum of History, the First District Court of Appeals, and the Florida Supreme Court. For five days, the 4-H’ers serve as legislators, lobbyists or on the media team. The Florida 4-H Legislature provides an opportunity for teen 4-H members to have a “learn by doing” experience in state government each summer. When delegates participate in the Florida 4-H Legislature they have an actual experience in all three branches of Florida’s government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. Florida 4-H laws are considered and passed or vetoed in a model legislative session at the Florida State Capitol (2017 Florida 4-H Legislature Manual I).
Lobbying Program – Lobbying begins before the youth arrive in Tallahassee. They are assigned to a lobby group (for example: Law Enforcement Council and Stewards of the Earth) and they sign up to lobby bills. Lobbyists write speeches, speak in Committee, draft amendments, and lobby during Office Hours. They also watch the House and Senate debate bills.
Supreme Court and First District Court of Appeals – They take tours, learn about which cases each court hears, and try cases. The youth use the courtrooms to determine the constitutionality of former cases. Serving as justices, attorneys, and court officers teaches them how to think about other points of view. In 2017, they were able to watch the Supreme Court in action. The court heard a case involving the state and a Central Florida attorney over death penalty cases. By special invitation, the 4-H’ers were able to witness history being made.
Florida Museum of History – The youth participate in a Scavenger Hunt through Florida History. They make new friends while uncovering Florida’s fascinating past.
Mock Legislative Event – Lobbyists go into the House chambers and have their own Legislature. They thoroughly enjoy practicing the dialogue with their manuals as guides. After watching for several days about how it is done, they are excited to try it out for themselves.
In 2007, the Volusia County 4-H Extension Agent attended Legislature as a chaperone and was assigned to the Lobbyist program. A high school senior, who now assists with the program, was the Head Lobbyist. His professionalism and expertise was an inspiration.
During state meetings, the Lobbyist Coordinator meets with the Head Lobbyists to review the previous year and plan for the upcoming “Leg.” For the past several years, the Head Lobbyists have developed a newsletter called The Lobbyist Lingo. The Lingo has a daily plan, lobbyist tips, and general information. The Lingo is put on the webpage in order to help Lobbyists prepare for the event (http://florida4h.org/programsandevents_/leg/).
For 2017, there was another innovation that the teens instituted – a Lobbyist Table. On Monday, during registration, the Head Lobbyists set up a table with resources and answer lots of questions. Being their first year, Lobbyists do not know what to expect and many have not been away from home before. The 2017 team also decided to invite an actual lobbyist to speak to the lobby groups: Mary Ann Hooks, lobbyist for Extension.
Over the years, the Head Lobbyists have evolved into young professionals who need little supervision. They teach the first-years how to write amendments and fill out Appearance Records. They show them how to immerse themselves into their roles – even if they are not fond of their position. It is wonderful to watch the Head Lobbyists help the lobby groups elect chairs and secretaries and conduct business – including getting them to know each other, dividing up bills, and composing speeches. The Head Lobbyists spend hours advising and critiquing them on their three-minute persuasive speeches; “pushing” them into the “offices” to speak with committees during Office Hours; teaching them parliamentary procedure and terms they need to be familiar with; and showing lost Lobbyists how to get to committee rooms.
From a white board that was once used to keep track of which bills passed and failed, the youth are now using a spreadsheet designed by designed by a former Head Lobbyist. The Head Lobbyists started composing the listing of all the bills each lobby group is “For” or “Against.” The Head Lobbyists even pick the Supreme Court cases to be tried, the bills for the Mock Legislative Experience, and assist the lobbyists in their roles. Before, adults guided the Mock Legislative event but now, the Head Lobbyists take the lead. Every year, the legislators report that the lobbyists get better and better – and that is a testament to the Head Lobbyist team.
Evaluation / Outcome
Florida 4-H Legislature is the most impactful program in the state. It is truly our signature event. Because of “Leg,” we have 4-H’ers that have gone on to become lawyers, representatives, political science majors, and even the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture. Many alumni return to assist with this program – including three former Head Lobbyists.
Over the past three years, 51 Lobbyists have completed the Florida 4-H Legislature evaluation. Over 75% of all youth respondents have reported that it is important to “Discuss and think about how political, social, local or national issues affect the community,” and “Being actively involved in community issues is everyone’s responsibility, including mine.” Over 80% replied ‘yes’ to: “As a result of the Civil Discourse and Listening activities and your experience at Legislature will you use these skills at home and at school?”
The following are a few comments from Lobbyist attendees. What are your three best experiences at the Florida 4-H Legislature program?
“Being a Legislative Aide my first year was a very memorable experience, and one that thoroughly prepared me for the years ahead as a representative/senator.”
“Being a lobbyist and learning about the government. Going and seeing the Supreme Court and the Capitol.”
“Meeting people who I love to call life-long friends, doing the Mock Legislative trial, and being a Legislative Aide for the President of the Senate.”
“Debate, Supreme Court Experience, meeting new people with alike and different views as me, but as a common goal.”
“4-H Legislature has continuously been my favorite part of the 4-H program throughout the past 4 years! It is the main thing that has kept me in 4-H for so long and has driven me to develop confidence and skills in public speaking, communication with peers and adults, creativity, budgeting (through my participation as a party leader), research, creative thinking, and so much more. This event is the very model of what a “learn by doing” program is and it has pushed me beyond my comfort zone and challenged me to be a leader, a friend, and a loyal and active citizen.”