In the early hours of Thursday, Feb.27, 34 Baylor students stepped into a bus with debate club advisor Dr. David Conwell, and faculty chaperones Regan Phillips and Takisha Haynie.
With students ranging from seasoned debaters attending their fifth or sixth conference, to fresh-faced students engaging in their first debate experience, excitement was palpable in the air as the soon-to-be delegates practiced speeches, annotated dockets, and spoke about past debate experiences.
The Youth in Government debate conference in Nashville is a conference in which students form teams or work individually to present and hopefully pass pieces of legislature known as bills. Delegates assume the role of either a member of the House of Representatives or a senator and debate why or why not bills should be passed based on feasibility, the amount of fiscal impact on the state on Tennessee, the importance and possible impact of the bill itself, and more.
The bill of Maddie Kim '22, recipient of both the Outstanding Statesperson award and Best Bill award, and Fatima Sohani '22, recipient of the Best Bill award, criminalizes fertility fraud by making the act a Class D felony in the state of Tennessee. Fertility fraud, Kim explains, is “when a doctor artificially inseminates a patient with bodily material that they did not not consent to, such as the doctor’s own bodily material or a stranger’s, or when a doctor uses the reproductive material of a donor without the donor’s consent.” Kim continued, stating, “As of right now in the state of Tennessee, there are no legal repercussions for such a heinous act, for the most extensive penalization that can happen is a doctor’s license being revoked, which is a slap on the wrist considering the catastrophic physical and mental wounds fertility fraud inflicts upon the victims and their subsequent children.”
Kim also described exactly how the two students found such a unique topic: “Fatima and I came to this topic over the summer. We both love the Youth in Government conference and look forward to it each year, so naturally we wanted to get a head start on securing a topic for the conference. We chose this topic for the bill because to us at least, the legality of fertility fraud was startling, and we desired to solve a problem we saw in our state. Our bill allows victims to bring offenders of fertility fraud to a court of law, enabling them the path to justice they deserve.”
Another bill that received the Best Bill award was that of Brett Cooper '22 and Stephanie Xian '21. This bill was about the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare in the state of Tennessee. Cooper, also a recipient of the Outstanding Statesperson award, explained that “currently, the Department of Human Services only uses about 35 percent of their budget for this welfare program.” Cooper and Xian’s bill doubled this percentage to 70 percent “in order to cover more people and give better benefits.” A major con that most bills have to face in debate is cost, but Cooper and Xian were ahead of the problem weeks before the conference began: “This program is federally funded but state distributed so we wouldn’t have to raise taxes at all.” Cooper stated that he “learned about this issue in an article in the Tennesseean and decided that it was too big of an issue not to tackle. Tennessee has the eighth highest poverty rate in the country, and we aren’t doing all we can to help our impoverished citizens.” This bill, he argued, would provide “many low-income Tennessee families with the help they need to enact their desire to live the American dream.”
Rosa Anderson-Barrera '21 and Orly Berke '21 wrote a bill focused on ending cash bail as a condition for pretrial release. Anderson-Barrera, who will be serving as Blue Lieutenant Governor at next year’s Youth in Government Capitol Conference, explains the implementation of their bill would mean “that judges would no longer be able to make defendants pay bail as they await trial.” The group instead proposed “other non-monetary solutions to ensure that defendants still return to court such as meetings with social workers or ankle monitors.” Anderson-Barrera notes that when she started the research for the bill, she learned “how deeply unfair the bail system is. It’s funny. It wasn’t something I was originally that passionate about, but the more I worked on it, the more I cared.” Anderson-Barrera and Berke chose to address the bail system because it “in general disproportionately impacts low income communities and communities of color,” is “just not affordable” at its average cost of $56,000 in the United States, and puts people who must remain in jail while they await trial due to bail bonds at increased “odds of losing custody of their children, their job, and their home.” Anderson-Barrera expressed that the state of Tennessee spends $206,000 a day on the system, meaning it “literally [costs] the state of Tennessee money to perpetuate an unjust system.”
These three bills, each providing a way to help everyday Tennessee residents, are just some of the creative, impactful, and truly impressive bills the Baylor debate team wrote, presented, and passed.
(The debate team would like to give a huge shout-out to faculty sponsor Dr. Conwell for all his help and support to make the last conference of the year as amazing as possible and thanks the Baylor faculty and student body for all their support!)