2009 Youth Legislation Highlights
State legislatures enacted various policies in 2009 aimed at supporting young people and ensuring they can successfully transition to adulthood. Most state policies focused on reducing risky behaviors and addressing the problems facing young people. At least 14 states focused on teen smoking and alcohol consumption. Nine states passed legislation directly targeted to disadvantaged youth, including those who are homeless or have run away from home and young people transitioning from foster care to independent living. Youth violence and school safety concerns continued to receive attention in at least 12 states. Some states established commissions and task forces to study particular issues in order to better understand the challenges facing young people. Two states created formal advisory councils comprised of young people to hear directly from youth about policy matters.
The following highlights substantive youth-related legislation enacted in 2009. It is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but to provide a high-level summary and identify trends emerging in the states. For details on the legislation referenced in this summary document and to search for current bills, go to the NCSL Youth Legislation Database.
Reducing Substance Use and Abuse Among Adolescents
Reducing risky behaviors, specifically smoking and drinking alcohol, remains a concern to state policymakers. Research shows that teens who begin drinking before age 15 are more likely to become alcohol dependent. At least 22 states enacted some sort of legislation aimed at reducing youth smoking and/or underage drinking.
Underage drinking laws focused on penalties for persons who provide alcohol to minors, penalties for the minors themselves, and clarifying the liability of persons who allow underage drinking to take place on their property, referred to as social host liability. Arkansas provided an exemption for the serving of alcoholic beverages to minors for religious ceremonies. Kentucky included provisions restricting attendance of minors at concerts where alcoholic beverages are served. Maryland specified criminal penalties for persons who furnish alcohol to a minor. Maryland and Oregon restricted or suspended driving privileges of minors who have committed alcohol related violations. Oregon also clarified conditions under which a parent may provide alcohol to minors. Arkansas, Kansas, Tennessee and Utah all defined penalties for adults who host underage drinking parties. To view more legislation on substance abuse, visit the Substance Abuse Legislation Database.
Tobacco use laws focused on restricting sales to young people and providing penalties for youth. Five states including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Dakota and Tennessee banned the sales of tobacco products through self-service displays. At least three states clarified penalties for youth. Illinois authorized the state attorney to order a minor and his/her parents to attend a smoking education and diversion program.
Addressing Needs of Disadvantaged Youth
States continue to pass laws aimed at providing for the needs of at-risk and disadvantaged youth, such as runaway and homeless youth and those transitioning from foster care to independent living. Homeless youth are at a higher risk for physical abuse, sexual exploitation, mental health disabilities, substance abuse, and even death. In 2009, at least nine states passed laws regarding homeless and runaway youth covering a range of issues. North Dakota created a state data system to track lost or missing children. Indiana revised its policies on homeless shelters and their ability to serve unaccompanied minors. Maine created a comprehensive program for homeless and runaway youth. Utah clarified the laws on persons who harbor runaways.
Studies show that foster youth aging out of care face challenges completing their education, finding housing and securing employment. The Federal Fostering Connections to Success Act of 2008 provided increased flexibility for states to address the unique needs and challenges of youth transitioning from foster care to independent living. At least seven states took steps to increase transitional living services, extend the age until which young people can receive such services and clarify which services must be available. For a complete overview of 2009 state enactments, view the NCSL report, Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.
Reducing and Responding to Youth Violence
School safety, bullying, teen dating violence and gang problems also continued to receive legislative attention. North Carolina, Nevada, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming passed laws regarding bullying and cyberbullying in schools. Illinois clarified the circumstances under which a student can be expelled for bringing weapons to school and in another provision created a criminal offense for recruitment of a minor into a street gang. To view more legislation related to juvenile justice, visit the Juvenile Justice Legislation Database.
A growing number of states are addressing the issue of teen dating violence. At least four states passed legislation in 2009 to incorporate dating violence as part of the educational curriculum. Ohio required school districts to adopt a dating violence policy and include dating violence awareness and education within the health curriculum. Nebraska also required the state department of education to develop a model policy for schools to address teen dating violence. View NCSL's Teen Dating Violence overview for a more comprehensive analysis of teen dating violence laws and proposals.
Establishing Study Committees and Task Forces to Better Understand Youth Challenges
Some states established study committees and task forces to coordinate the services available to young people and to research particular areas of concern. Three states created commissions specifically charged with aligning and coordinating state children and youth services. Mississippi created a Joint Legislative Study Committee on Children and Youth to establish measurable goals and benchmarks for children and family services. Texas created the Council on Children and Families to coordinate state health, education and human services systems. Iowa established the Iowa Collaboration for Youth Development Council comprised of various state departments and agencies, and also created a youth advisory council. The Minnesota legislature required the Management and Budget Office to map all state expenditures on children and youth services and inventory state and federal funding sources to identify where state money is spent.
States also created issue-specific task forces and commissions. Mississippi established a task force to address the issue of teen pregnancy. The Illinois Advisory Council on Youth HIV/AIDS Prevention Messages was formed to advise state public health department officials on effective HIV and AIDS prevention programming. North Carolina’s Financial Literacy Council was tasked with coordinating and expanding the statewide delivery of financial education. New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Texas also created commissions to evaluate juvenile justice rules and facilities.
Engaging Youth in the Policymaking Process
Creating a youth advisory council is one way legislators engage young people in the policy process. Youth councils provide legislators with an insider perspective on the challenges young people face and ideas about how they would solve their own problems. In 2009, North Dakota and Iowa created youth advisory councils that would provide feedback to the legislature on youth issues. Ten other states have existing youth councils; the first council was established in Maine in 2002. Visit our Civic and Policy Engagement of Youth page for more details on youth advisory councils. Visit the Civic Education: State and U.S. Congressional Database to view legislation on the civic education.
Bill summaries in this report were prepared using State Net, copyright© 2009 by Information for Public Affairs, Inc.
About NCSL's Youth Policy Project:
The National Conference of State Legislatures Youth Policy Project focuses on cross-cutting issues around positive youth development and how to ensure young people are prepared for college, the workforce and the responsibilities of adulthood. NCSL works in cooperation with StateNet to track legislation and maintains a database on proposed and enacted legislation covering a variety of topics including civic engagement, youth in transition, governance and youth councils and commissions, and a limited number of statutes relating to juvenile justice and out of school time. The Youth Legislation Database is available to the public and searchable by state, topic, keyword, year, status or primary sponsor.