By Avalon Gupta VerWiebe, DuPont Manual High School, Louisville, KY
For the past couple months, the pressure has been building on elected officials in Kentucky to diversify the state’s energy portfolio and invest more in an economy that utilizes larger amounts of renewable energies, specifically through the passage of legislation such as the Clean Energy Opportunities Act (HB 195). This effort has been led by a diverse coalition of stakeholders in the state, but has seen particularly strong participation from young Kentuckians. Orchestrated by the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition, Wednesday, January 29th was created to be a call-in day, where supporters–youth supporters in particular–would call and leave a message for their representatives urging them to recognize the benefits of a green economy in the bluegrass and pass HB 195. This is the backdrop for the story that unfolds below.
At about 8:00 AM, Cara Cooper, State Organizer with KSEC aged 27, left a message for her representative urging support of HB 195 without any issues, but when she heard the news that Representative Keith Hall, chairman of the House Committee on Tourism Development and Energy, agreed to hold a hearing for the bill, she called back to leave a message with Rep. Hall thanking him.
“The first thing that they asked me is ‘How old are you?’” said Cara “I was really confused as to why she would ask me that, but I told her that I am 27. Then she said ‘Ok, you sound really young and I’ve been told not to take messages from people under 18.’ And then she took my message.”
As youth started to call-in from across the state, others reported being questioned for sounding too young–especially those in high school. Many were turned away when they told the phone operators they were under the age of 18. “They said I wasn’t old enough and had to be 18 to actively show my support for the bill.” said Daisy Borders, a student at DuPont Manual in Jefferson County aged 17. Plenty of other youth received the similar responses, being denied the ability to leave a comment for their representatives.
Eliza Devlin, a student at Atherton High School aged 17, says that before she called to urge her state representative to vote for the passing of House bill 195 she was warned by fellow students that she may be turned away for being too young. “It is offending and belittling that because of my age, I can’t voice my opinion.” said Eliza, “After all, it seems to me that the people this bill will be effecting most will be the people my age because soon we will be adults and have to deal with environmental problems and climate change. I don’t think its right that my voice isn’t allowed to be heard, because the amount of years is no measure to the knowledge and advocacy a person can bring to any cause."
The question that needs to be asked of this situation is: does being under the age of 18 in Kentucky, or anywhere in this country, prevent you from being able to voice your opinion to an elected official? And the answer is no. The Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition has asked Assistant Director of the Legislative Research Commission Roy Collins to find out immediately why these young people were turned away since there are no policies on the LRC or any other state agency's website that define any age limits on participating in our state’s democratic process. The youth voice is one of the most important constituencies that legislators work for; it is crucial that it is not muted out, as it is the literal future of Kentucky.