2017 Bright Idea
Winners:
State of Washington
January 1, 2017
Jurisdiction:
Washington

The Washington State Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) provides a direct route for young people to advocate for themselves and their communities and promote positive policy changes. LYAC is distinctive in that it supplies quality civic engagement education and effectively works to enfranchise youth voice in the creation of legislation. Before 2005, there was no official, practical way for the opinions of young people in Washington State to be heard by state policymakers, and youth representation and participation in the state political system was in a state of decline; a statewide conduit for youth voice was both promising and vital. LYAC was initially proposed by 11-year-old Alex Jonlin, who envisioned a “bureau of children’s opinions” to finally incorporate youth into discussions of major youth policy. Alex worked with his state senator to create an organization founded on authentic youth engagement and involvement. Soon, LYAC was officially established with the passage of Senate Bill 5254 in 2005, creating the first state program for youth to make significant, lasting policy changes.  The structure of LYAC was based partially on the preexisting youth advisory council in Maine, but incorporated new organizational frameworks, drawing heavily on systems-thinking models and operating as a youth-adult partnership. Consistent with LYAC’s youth voice focus, the 22 members themselves determined the methodology, bylaws, and organizational philosophy for the council. In 2007, the legislature recognized LYAC’s importance by removing the program’s sunset clause and by fully funding LYAC. This allowed LYAC members to expand the scope of the program by holding the first annual youth Action Day in 2008. Action Day is one of the largest youth events in the state, where hundreds of youth from across the state meet at the capitol to hear from state officials, learn from workshops, and apply their acquired skills immediately by joining LYAC members during lobbying meetings with legislators. LYAC has been instrumental in the passage of many significant pieces of youth-related legislation, including bills about dropout prevention, substance abuse in young people, mental health services in schools, criminal sentences for minors, and college access and affordability for undocumented students.