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Eye On Olympia

Be careful what you wish for, kid…

Last year, a Seattle little boy named Alex Jonlin, wanting to give his peers a voice in state government, gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition to create a youth board to advise state lawmakers. He lobbied for his bill, which local Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, agreed to sponsor.

After the usual hearings, lawmakers last year said OK. But the House of Representatives made one key change: membership on this board was limited to those 14 and older.

Alex is 12.

So, like any good lobbyist, he returned this year to push for more. And on Friday morning, amid a slew of lightweight bills, the state Senate took up the matter of allowing 12-year-olds on the panel.

Surprisingly, there was resistance. The capitol already hosts three programs for youth interested in government, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville pointed out.

The most passionate opposition came from Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington. The boy’s not even old enough to hold down a job, she pointed out.

“In a restaurant, for exmple, he could not become a dishwasher, or he could not become an engineer on a roadworking crew. He could not even be a ditch digger, because of his age,” she said. “To believe that this individual has the life experiences to be able to advise the Legislature, I think, is just bizarre.”

Maybe by the time he’s 14, she said, he’ll be mature enough.

“I believe that’s only appropriate, as we here in this body are, after all, the adults,” she said.

Other lawmakers said the state should encourage the boy’s political interest.

“This isn’t gonna exactly break the bank,” said Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland. “This is just a little project out there.”

“If somebody’s interested, then they ought to have an opportunity to participate while the interest level is there,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.

Jonlin’s bill finally passed, 37 to 8. (Photo courtesy state Senate, 2005)

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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