Students from Cody High School and Cody Middle School lobbied legislators on Monday. Here Natalie Call (back to camera), Owen Preston, Tashi Mathuin and Soffy Anderson engage Rep. Dan Laursen, a Park County Republican from Powell. (Deb White)

For 25 years, students involved in Cody Youth for Justice have learned they can influence public policy through direct engagement with decision-makers.

The group engages in elections — they conducted a forum for school board candidates last fall — and makes an annual trip to the state Legislature.

“Every year, the kids pick something that should be put into law or find a bill that interests them,” said Deb White, the recently retired science teacher who advises the group.

Before making the trek to the Capitol, the students research their targeted issues, mark out their points of advocacy and create media such as individualized brochures. The extensive work prepares them to lobby legislators in the temporary Capitol in the Jonah Building, White said.

This year, the students chose to support House Bill 110 – Gunshot and stab wound reporting, Senate File 46 – Opioid prescription limits and Senate File 43 – Hathaway scholarship eligibility.

On Sunday Jan. 27, White and 17 students — 14 from Cody High School and three eighth-graders from Cody Middle School — drove nearly 400 miles to Cheyenne to advocate for the three bills.

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On Monday, all three measures were awaiting action in the House of Representatives. The students divided into teams with each team assigned to talk to 10 legislators. Those teams then reported back to the group as a whole.

By the end of the day, they had spoken with 48 of 60 members of the House. White noted the students could tell Rep. Sandy Newsom (R-Cody), the sponsor of the gun and stab wound reporting bill, “here’s who supports your bill, here’s who’s against it, here’s who you need to talk to.”

“It’s not haphazard at all,” she said. “The word on the street is that we may be one of the most effective lobbying groups in the state of Wyoming.”

The kids asked to drive home Monday night so they would not miss a second day of school, White said.

“Obviously, they learn how a bill becomes law, like really learn it,” she said. More important, she added, “They learn that just being a member of a democracy requires more than just voting for someone … you can have an impact in Wyoming, maybe more than anywhere else.”

Dan Neal is the former executive director of the Equality State Policy Center. He worked for decades as a journalist in Wyoming, including as the special legislative editor for WyoFile.

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