The 2018 Utah legislative session is underway, and BYU students can have a great influence on Utah legislation as they make up a significant portion of the population of Utah,.
The BYU student body represents all 50 states and 105 different countries, according to the demographics outlined on BYU’s website. Only 35% of students are from Utah, so a majority of students may not recognize Utah as their home.
BYU political science professor Adam Brown is involved with helping students get into BYU’s internship program with the Utah Legislature.
“BYU students should not think of themselves as being from ‘somewhere else’ and therefore overlook local politics,” Brown said. “You don’t get to vote until you’re 18; thus, by the time students have lived four years in Provo, they have spent 100 percent of their voting years in this city, yet many somehow don’t consider themselves residents.”
Joshua Menden, Kaili Sparks and Michael Scott are former interns with the Utah Legislature. They each agreed their time on Capitol Hill was a highlight of their undergraduate experiences.
“If a student wants to influence legislation at any level of government, they first have to understand the process,” Menden said.
Sparks said it’s easy to get involved, including volunteering, reaching out to local leaders or emailing your representative or senator about issues that are important to you or testifying in a committee meeting.
“If you find a bill you are passionate about, there is a specified time during the committee meeting when the public is allowed to speak for or against the bill,” Sparks said.
Specific bills and the committees where they will be heard can be found at le.utah.gov, where committee agendas are posted 24 hours before the meeting will take place.
Scott said he believes in the importance of keeping informed on local government and thinks it is easy to get involved.
“Students in Utah and Salt Lake counties live quite close to the Capitol, and can attend meetings fairly easy,” Scott said. “With the general legislative session starting, following legislation that impacts students is as easy as checking out the Utah Legislature website and attending a meeting or two.”
BYU professor Alan Hawkins is involved in helping legislators write bills. He thinks students should start a social media campaign where they can give opinions on bills and alert the legislator who sponsors the bill. He said he agrees students should voice their opinions on bills in committees.
“Something that is really quite powerful in those settings is when people come in and provide a real life story about their situation and how this legislation would have effect on them positively or negatively,” Hawkins said.
Brown said legislators hear minimal feedback from constituents on most bills, outside of a few high-profile or controversial subjects, so if a single person takes the time to talk to his or her legislator, they can have an astronomical influence.
Latter-day Saints believe God instituted governments for man’s benefit, and that men are accountable for their actions in connection to government, according to Brown who quoted a scripture from Doctrine and Covenants 134:1.
Brown said whether students stay in Utah or not — and many students who don’t plan to stay in Utah after their university experience will stay — being involved in a communities legislative process will be beneficial to them in the future.
“Visiting the Utah Capitol during the session, taking a tour, and then observing legislators in committee and in floor debate provides an excellent introduction to the legislative process that will stick with them throughout their lives, preparing them to engage their local, state and national officials wherever they may settle,” Brown said.