The legislative program encompasses the majority of the delegates and serves as the flagship of the Youth and Government program. Modeled after the New Jersey legislative system, our two fully independent legislatures each consist of an Assembly and a Senate, in which bills are debated and passed through by their sponsoring delegates, and potentially signed by the Youth Governor.
The story of a bill begins in the mind of a delegate as he or she notices an issue at hand in New Jersey and writes a bill to change or improve it. After codifying it into the bill language and preparing research for debate, delegates submit the bills for review by the officer corps, who, at the annual Pre-Legislative session, give advice and demonstrate how to improve and strengthen bills, as well as writing personalized feedback for bill so that delegates can have the best bill possible prepared for conference. At the same time, authors must prepare their cosponsors to represent their bill in the opposing chamber.
At Conference, all bills start off in committee. This is the first testing ground in which bills are put together head-to-head to highlight the relative strengths of each bill, as bills are heard in “buckets,” groups of about four bills, and must compete to win the votes of committee members. Committee allows delegates to vote on which bills they would like to hear in greater detail at a later time. In committees, delegates have the option to propose amendments to one another’s bills. The bills are scored by the committee on merit of feasibility, debatability, importance to state, and research/quality, and the top scored bills proceed to chamber.
Once committee voting is completed, passed bills carry through to the chamber, in which they are heard one at a time in greater detail than in committee. In Youth and Government, a bill must pass through two chambers, the Senate and the Assembly, in order to make it to the governor’s desk. When an author’s bill is called to the floor in either the Assembly or Senate, debate opens on the bill and the author must defend the bill in several rigorous rounds of debate, including questioning of the author. The bill will also go through the same process in the other chamber, but with the cosponsor at the helm instead of the author in the other committee. Like in committees, the delegates have the option to improve legislation by use of amendments. If the bill passes both chambers, it reaches the governor’s desk, where the Cabinet, a group of eight officers, thoroughly scrutinize the bill’s strengths and weaknesses as legislation. If the governor vetoes the bill, it goes back to the chambers to be reviewed once again by the legislature, which can override the veto, make changes to the bill, or let the bill die. The governor also has the option to conditionally veto a bill, thereby agreeing to pass a bill if the bill’s chamber of origin amends a specific, problematic section of the bill. If it passes, the bill is “enacted” into law and the author is recognized for his or her accomplishment at the closing ceremony.
The legislative program teaches much more than simply how to write and debate legislation in New Jersey. The critical thinking skills, the determination, and the family-hood found in legislative committee is unparalleled, and the newfound friends and ideas are irreplaceable.