Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011 | 2 a.m.
About 1,000 students from high schools throughout Southern Nevada participated in the 55th annual Sun Youth Forum on Nov. 22. The students were divided into groups to discuss a variety of topics. A representative was chosen from each group to write a column about the students’ findings. Elizabeth Charles of Bishop Gorman High School writes about issues covered by her group, “Home in Nevada.”
When I walked into the mammoth Las Vegas Convention Center, I was unsure of what to expect. What I found was a group of teens who I related to, felt comfortable with and, most of all, learned from. The vast knowledge and awareness of my peers created an incredible exchange of ideas that greatly widened my perspective.
We were presented with the theme of “Home in Nevada” and a variety of issues facing our state today. The first was an issue of life or death — the death penalty. A slim majority favored the existence of the death penalty, believing death to be the only suitable punishment for murder. Those opposed believed it to be inherently immoral to kill another human being or that a lifetime jail sentence was a more severe punishment. Additionally, this group noted that the government is not infallible; sometimes innocent people have died at the unforgiving hands of the death penalty.
The next issue discussed has been at the forefront of Nevada politics for years: Yucca Mountain and concern about the safety of the site as a repository for nuclear waste. We began with many teens opposed or unsure of their position. After much discussion, a majority favored the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain while also agreeing that the state should focus on developing clean, renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind power.
We moved to the controversial topic of legalizing marijuana to stimulate Nevada’s economy. Those in favor believed it would bring in valuable tax dollars while allowing the police to focus on people using harder drugs. Teens against did not support the legalization of a gateway drug, believing the societal problems it could create would outweigh any economic gains. In the end, the teens were still divided. However, it proved beneficial to hear other points of view.
Following this was the topic of gay marriage. The majority agreed that it should be constitutional for Nevada to recognize the marriage licenses of gay couples from other states. On whether Nevada should allow gay couples to marry, the room was divided. We came up with a creative solution: Have the government grant civil unions to both homosexual and heterosexual couples and leave the marriage ceremony to religious institutions. This solution acknowledged both of our groups’ desires by preserving traditional marriage while still giving gay couples benefits from the government.
We transitioned into another issue facing Nevada: legalizing prostitution. Initially, many in our group were opposed or undecided. However, as the discussion progressed, we agreed that unfortunately it was already happening; after all, “What happens here, stays here.” Possibly through government regulation of prostitution, human trafficking could be detected and stopped, cases of prostitute abuse would decrease and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases through prostitution would lessen. Thus, post-discussion, a majority of the group came to vote in favor of legalizing prostitution.
Our final topic was raising taxes to benefit education. A majority of our group supported this while those opposed believed that current state funding should be shifted and restructured. We considered where taxes could be raised and concurred that a mining tax would prove profitable for education while not placing a heavy burden on Nevada’s economy. All agreed that Nevada must further invest in education to better the state as a whole.
At the Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum, we realized our ideas can have a positive impact on our community. We are the voices of tomorrow, but our thoughts and resolutions can help create a better future for Nevada today.