The Montana Capitol is again bustling with legislative activity, though none of the people debating and signing bills have won a state election, and most of them are still too young to vote.
Intended to simulate Montana's biennial legislative session, the 47th annual Youth Legislative Session brought 207 high school students to the Capitol this week to experience what it's like to work as lawmakers, lobbyists, lawyers, judges and reporters.
Bozeman senior Dillon Fatouros is serving as governor and Livingston junior Peyton Murphy as lieutenant governor this year. Both have been participating in the annual event since they were freshman and said they aim to become leaders in the future.
“The next generation is carrying the torch of democracy,” said Fatouros, who plans to attend Montana State University in the fall. “It allows us to express ideas and meet new people.”
Murphy looks at the rise in engagement from young people in modern society as a sign that “kids of our generation really have heart and care.”
“You wouldn’t see something like this 100 years ago,” Murphy said. “It’s really crazy to see how these things have shifted.”
Most of the students at the Capitol are involved directly in writing and passing bills. But nine were sequestered high in the rafters of the Capitol doing another important job: putting out the paper.
Jack Kuney and Triston Crocker are Capital High School sophomores forming part of the session’s press corps. They write articles about the bills and speak with elected officials about why they did what they did.
“It’s hard to meet the deadlines,” Crocker said, echoing virtually every journalist who's had to finish a piece a few minutes before press time. “But it’s cool to find the little things that fit in together.”
“It seemed interesting,” Kuney said. “We get to be everywhere and learning everything at once.”
Bill Kaiser, the technology teacher at Capital, has been working with the Youth Legislative Session since 1996.
“The biggest difference (between 1996 and now) is that all comms were handled by pages, and now it’s all digital," he said.
While the pages once used floppy disks to transport information from computer to computer, he said, "now it's all in a Google Doc."
Miya Tennant is in her second year of heading the Youth Legislative Session, which is sponsored by the YMCA of Helena. She’s been involved in the program for 12 years -- two as a high school student and six as a chaperone -- and has been in charge for the last two.
“It’s a pretty structured program," Tennant said. "It’s about leadership skills and gets to every facet of the legislative process, including the difficulties of compromise and power, as well as the election and even a Governor's Ball.
“It’s like herding cats,” Tennant said, but “they actually do a pretty incredible job.”