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Students from across the Commonwealth gathered in Louisville this weekend for the annual Kentucky YMCA’s Kentucky Youth Assembly (KYA).

KYA gives middle and high school students the opportunity to participate in policymaking following the same processes that take place in Frankfort.

Students stepped into the roles of senators, state representatives, lieutenant governor and governor as they proposed, debated and passed laws they crafted. 

Governor Andy Beshear, who participated at KYA as a teen, spoke at the assembly Saturday, the conference’s last day.

“I loved my KYA experience. I got so much out of it and lost every election I ever ran for,” Beshear said. “Thankfully, I didn’t peak too early.”

He said the issues students were addressing at KYA are the same ones being reviewed by lawmakers in Frankfort. These included conversion therapy, drug abuse, climate change, food insecurity and sports gambling

“You spend this time doing a lot of different things, but you are stepping up and talking about those issues that are most important to us, that we need to move forward on and we ultimately have to address,” Beshear said.

Students managed to pass 15 bills over the three-day run of the conference. They addressed topics ranging from eminent domain to impeachment proceedings, and from unsupervised parental visits to eliminating the sales tax on period products. 

Ellah Pruitt, 14, participated as a bill sponsor. She was one of the writers of the House bill regarding unsupervised parental visits. 

“We kind of wrote about this girl from Pennsylvania,” said Pruitt. “Her father had been granted an unsupervised visit with her and had killed her while she was there.”

The bill states that if a parent has committed any abuse toward anyone in the household they can only visit children with supervision. It was one example of students turning real-life issues into actual policies. 

The pandemic and ongoing discussions about racial justice also influenced proposed policies.

“You started to see a lot more bills about mental health and a lot more bills about equity,” Pruitt said. 

Issues in the real world affected not only policies proposed at KYA, but the way the conference itself functioned. All of last year’s KYA events were hosted virtually. This year some are again in-person — but not the yearly visit to the Capitol. 

Students said they were happy to be back face-to-face and watch the corps and groups come together to participate in mock government. 

“Last year we did have those programs, but it was much harder to do online,” said Katie Issac, 16, who participated as a member of the media corps.

“It’s so much growth to see all these people doing these amazing things,” she said.

The opportunity through KYA for students to propose legislation about what’s important to them was empowering, participants said.

“They don’t limit what the youth want to talk about,” said Mateo Moreno, 18, who participated as a chairperson. “They want us to talk about it so that when we’re up in the future we can carry ourselves with leadership qualities and make a change if we are passionate.”

Breya Jones is the Breaking News Reporter for WFPL.