WHAT WE DO
There are two ways to learn about government:
The first is to read textbooks about what others have done.
The second is to take that theoretical knowledge and apply it in an actual government setting.
The Wisconsin YMCA Youth in Government program provides middle and high school students with a unique opportunity to learn how to be civically engaged by acting as state legislators, lawyers, and members of the Press Corps. The students simulate all phases and positions of the actual state government and are challenged with many of the same issues our real legislators must face in their elected offices.
Youth in Government participants, called "delegates," are given the option of participating in one of three main program areas:
The legislative program area is the largest of those offered through the Wisconsin YMCA Youth in Government program. Typically, between half and two-thirds of the total participants in the Model Government session each year are in the legislature.
The legislature’s function is to produce bills to be signed into law. Each legislative student must submit at least one bill to participate in the program, and students may co-author a bill if they desire. A bill is a one-page proposal that would solve an issue to a problem in our state. There is a specific format to follow, and many resources exist to help in coming up with an idea and following the correct format.
Students begin writing their bills in the fall after brainstorming within their delegation. Bills are due to be submitted by the deadline set by the state office, typically in early January.
At the Pre-Government conference, legislative delegates are split into small groups, called committees, which are divided by bill topic. Delegates will each present their bill to be ranked - bills ranked well will end up toward the top of the docket for the Model Government session. The debate at Pre-Government is centered around five criteria - originality, structure, debatability, feasibility, and importance. Bills at this stage are not pass/fail, but simply ranked - ALL will move on to the Model Government conference.
At Model Gov, bills will be divided by chamber (see below) and debated in the order in which they were ranked at Pre-Gov. Bill authors will be given the chance to give opening and closing statements, and the rest of the delegates will debate the bill's pros and cons. At the end of debate, a vote will be held - bills that pass get debated in a second chamber, and bills that fail do not move on. Bills which pass two different chambers are presented to the Youth Governor to either be signed or vetoed. Legislative delegates spend the bulk of their time at Model Gov debating other delegates' bills.
Although the number of legislative chambers can vary based on statewide participation, there are typically four: Harvey Assembly, Nelson Assembly, Phillips Assembly, and Senate. The two primary differences between the chambers are age/grade and level of debate.
The Harvey Assembly (previously called Red Assembly) is traditionally the junior chamber. This is the recommended program area for middle school legislative students, as well as new underclassmen who may feel more comfortable speaking in front of a smaller group. Because the delegates are on the younger side, the level of debate is fairly relaxed, in part due to an elected Speaker who is sensitive to the delegates’ comfort level. During Model Government, this assembly uses the North Hearing Room in the Capitol Building.
The Nelson Assembly (previously called Blue Assembly) is the second legislative chamber. Most Nelson Assembly delegates are high school students, though motivated middle school students are also permitted to apply. The level of debate in Nelson Assembly is notably higher and faster-paced than that in Harvey Assembly, and parliamentary procedure is more strictly enforced. While in the Capitol Building, Nelson Assembly uses the Assembly chamber at the Capitol.
Phillips is the senior chamber of the three assemblies. The level of debate is higher still than that of Nelson Assembly. Middle school and new-to-YIG delegates are not permitted in Phillips except for in special circumstances. Their debate takes place in the GAR Hearing Room on the fourth floor of the Capitol.
The Senate is the most senior of the Model Government chambers. Limited to a maximum capacity of 33 delegates, the Senate is typically made up of upperclassmen and experienced debaters. Debate is rapid, intense, and thorough and takes place in the Capitol Building’s Senate Chambers.
Each legislative chamber has four officers – all sixteen of these officers are voted in at Pre-Government. Each of the chambers has its own Floor Leader, Chief Clerk, and Reading Clerk. Each of the assemblies has their own Speaker, and the Senate has a President. These students all must attend a training session between the time of their election at Pre-Gov and the start of the Model Government conference.
The Supreme Court program is aimed at getting delegates to examine case law and develop accurate and convincing arguments on one side of an appellate court case. While open to delegates of all ages, this program area is recommended for high school students. Each Supreme Court delegate will receive an assigned court case and a side for which to argue (appellant or respondent). Every effort will be made to ensure that delegates argue against those who are not from their own local delegation. Additionally, each Supreme Court participant will also serve as a justice on the bench for at least one case hearing.
Case Assignment / Work as Attorney
Each Supreme Court delegate will be assigned a group of cases to review and prepare for, and precise case assignments and pairings will be made close to Pre-Government. Once the cases have been assigned, the first step for the Supreme Court member is the writing of briefs. The preparation of briefs is necessary to provide the court with case information, resources, and material to aid the justices in their decisions. It is very important to prepare each brief with the comprehensive facts, a complete listing of authorities, and a convincing argument and conclusion. An effective brief works well in the court and can play a major part in the outcome of a case hearing.
Following the filing of the briefs, Supreme Court delegates should devote their time to preparing an oral argument. Each team or group of attorneys should develop their arguments as well as divide the allotted time for argument. In addition, each attorney should practice presenting their case as much as possible prior to the actual presentation of oral arguments.
As you are presenting your case, each of the seven justices are free to interrupt and ask questions. Be prepared to answer these questions with well-thought and organized answers supporting your case. At the end of each argument and conclusion of the appellant and respondent, there will be a moment in which the justices have an opportunity to ask either the appellants or respondents questions regarding the case. Attorneys for the appellants and respondent shall then retire until the court issues its decision and opinion.
Deliberation / Work as Justice
Every participant in the Supreme Court will have at least one chance to act as one of the seven justices. Be prepared for the case in which you will be a justice. Obtain and review a brief for your selected cases as soon as you can. It is very important that you are well-prepared as a justice, so you can make the most well-thought and rational decision.
As the attorneys are presenting their cases, it is the duty of each justice to listen carefully, take notes, and ask questions to clarify certain statements. It is beneficial to the court if many questions are asked. Questions bring out debate, and debate is needed in the court if there is to be a fair and complete hearing.
After a case has been heard, the justices meet in the deliberation room. As the issues are debated, it is important that all justices become involved in the discussion. The deliberation is a friendly atmosphere in which the justices can freely discuss the aspects of the case. The statements made by the justices will be a deciding factor in each case. Provide as much input as possible to fully benefit the deliberation. Each deliberation will last between 15 and 30 minutes. The deliberation ends when all justices have voted. It is the duty of the presiding justice to function as a facilitator of debate, making an effort to involve those who seem hesitant to voice their opinion, occasionally playing devil’s advocate, and refraining from making their own opinion known until the final vote has occurred.
During deliberation, the justices shall decide on each of the legal questions, determine the constitutionality of the issues, and decide in favor of the appellant or the respondent for each case. Justices may choose to not decide in complete favor for one party or the other, but instead solely make a declaration about the constitutionality of one or several issues. All decisions must be fully explained in the opinion document.
After the voting takes place, each side (assuming that the vote is not unanimous) chooses a justice to write an opinion backing their decision. For example, if 5 justices affirmed a case and 2 dissented (or reversed the past court’s decision), then both the affirming and dissenting sides must appoint a justice(s) to write the opinion for their respective decisions. If the vote is unanimous (7 to 0), then ONE opinion will be written representing the decision of every justice. An opinion is generally one page written.
The leader of the Supreme Court program is the youth Chief Justice. Depending on program enrollment, a First and/or Second Justice may also be added to the leadership team. These delegates present their cases, but then one of them must serve on and lead EACH deliberation team. Other leadership positions include the Attorney General (who leads the Judicial Review Committee), the Marshal, and the Deputy Marshal (both of whom are in charge of decorum and announcing cases in chambers).
The Judicial Review Committee (JRC) is a small group of nominated students who lead deliberation on the constitutionality of bills in the legislative program.
The Press Corps is the media contingent of the Youth in Government program. These delegates research and write stories and content related to local delegations, Pre-Government and Model Government conferences, and human interest stories related to the program. These stories are then published in a printed newspaper as well as online. This program area is also charged with documenting each year’s program through photos, video, and social media.
Press Corps members work together as a team to generate story ideas. Articles are assigned and need to be completed by the deadline that is determined by the Editor-in-Chief. Press Corps delegates must budget their time wisely in order to complete all necessary interviews, drafts, and edits of their articles. After completing assigned articles, delegates can usually work on a story of their choosing. Press Corps delegates need to attend all status meetings throughout the Pre-Government and Model Government conferences and are responsible for keeping the Editor-in-Chief and Press Corps Advisor informed of their location.
To be a reporter, you need solid news judgment (knowing what is considered news and what is not). News judgment varies depending on the area and the audience. Everyday occurrences tend not to be news. Readers want to learn about what is interesting to them, as well as what is important. There are several different types of stories, including news stories, features, editorials, and columns.
News stories can be hard-hitting news such as who won an election or what bills were debated. Most are considered “spot news,” meaning the news happens on the spot and involves material that must be reported immediately. Generally, news stories are written with essential information on top (in the beginning of the story), with supporting information in the following paragraphs.
Feature writing is a style of writing that is fun to read. Reporters write feature stories to explain a trend, show color and personality of the topic, and entertain the reader. Go to the “Home” section or “Lifestyles” section of your newspaper to find feature stories.
Typically, the editorials page of a newspaper includes editorial cartoons, letters to the editor, columns or commentary, and editorials. There is a difference between editorials and columns/commentaries.
Editorials are written by a staff called an editorial board. The stories represent the opinion of the board. Editorial board writers use these stories to endorse candidates and talk about issues of concern. Writers base their stories on facts and reporting, as not to rile up controversy over misinformation or speculation. Editorials tend to point out inconsistencies in judgments or actions of public officials. While news stories and columns have the writer’s name on top, editorials do not name the author (because they are the opinions of a board).
Columns, also known as commentary, generally run in the editorial section. You can tell a column is such because it is accompanied by a picture of the writer next to the writer’s name. A column is an opinion and commentary. Some columns, such as Ann Landers and Dear Abby, are written with how-to information.
Video, Photography, & Digital
While some Press Corps delegates will stick to writing articles for print in papers or online, others will join teams devoted to promoting video, photography, digital media, and social media. These team assignments are made at the conferences. Some delegates will rotate teams.
The Press Corps is led by a student Editor-in-Chief who, in conjunction with the State Office, sets the guidelines and deadlines for the year. The EIC is assisted by an Assistant Editor-in-Chief, a digital editor, a video editor, and section editors.