Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Armwood seniors pitch Unaccompanied Youth Bill to lawmakers

Michael Himes, Stephanie Walker, Tori Wilson, Jessica Ireland and Tiara Brooks stand in front of the state seal at the Capitol. The seniors went to Tallahassee last week to meet with lawmakers and present a bill on behalf of their peers who are unaccompanied youths.

Courtesy of Tony Pirotta

Michael Himes, Stephanie Walker, Tori Wilson, Jessica Ireland and Tiara Brooks stand in front of the state seal at the Capitol. The seniors went to Tallahassee last week to meet with lawmakers and present a bill on behalf of their peers who are unaccompanied youths.

SEFFNER — Five Armwood High School seniors got a big opportunity last week to present a bill to lawmakers in Tallahassee.

The proposed legislation would make it easier for kids who aren't living with their parents or guardians to participate in school activities. It sailed through the House Civil Justice Subcommittee Tuesday without a single opposing vote.

"I think they knew how nervous we were,'' 18-year-old Jessica Ireland said the day after she and her classmates pitched House Bill 1351.

Also known as the Unaccompanied Youth Bill, the proposed legislation still has one more committee to clear before it can be heard on the House floor. In 2011, a similar proposal tucked into a different House bill didn't make it past the first committee.

"I never realized the work that goes into passing a bill,'' said Michael Himes, 18. "It was an eye-opening experience.''

The students from teacher Tony Pirotta's U.S. Government class won the right to present the bill through an 8-year-old Hillsborough County program "There Ought to be a Law.''

High school students draft real bills, then compete for a chance to help get them passed.

"This program scares me,'' state Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, joked during the Civil Justice Committee meeting.

"I'm worried you might trade me for one of these young, bright people,'' he told subcommittee chairman Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando.

Eisnaugle responded: "I just might.''

The Armwood students borrowed the idea for their bill from former Leto High senior Sergio Velazquez.

Velazquez became an unaccompanied youth in 2010 when his family moved back to New York. Now at Saint Leo University in Pasco County, he fought to stay in Tampa and graduate from high school.

Unaccompanied youths are typically those older than 16 who are not in the physical custody of their parents or a guardian.

They often go unnoticed until a problem occurs or they break down from the stress of trying to make it on their own.

Without a parent or guardian's signature, these students can't participate in school sports, go on field trips, or even get medicine from a nurse. One classmate can't even sign himself in and out of the school, said senior Tori Wilson, 18.

"We see it every day at school,'' Wilson added.

Some of these kids are not old enough to be truly on their own. They can't sign rental leases, get birth certificates or drivers' licenses "which makes everything else hard,'' she said.

The Florida Department of Education estimates there are about 6,500 unaccompanied youth statewide.

Hillsborough County's school district has about 74 such students, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. At Armwood, there are 21 unaccompanied youths and 40 homeless students.

Nothing in current state law specifically addresses unaccompanied youth, said state Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, who is co-sponsoring the bill.

His bill and a companion one introduced by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, would change that by giving unaccompanied youth essentially the same rights as emancipated minors.

Armwood seniors Stephanie Walker and Tiara Brooks also traveled to Tallahassee to take part in the presentation.

For all of them, it was a special experience, Pirotta said.

"They're really becoming legislators,'' he said, "going and lobbying a bill and seeing the process of a bill from inception to finished product.''

The students didn't really grasp how momentous the occasion was until they came face to face with Florida's most influential leaders.

Then it hit them.

"We're one of the very few,'' Ireland said, "who get to present a bill.''

Armwood seniors pitch Unaccompanied Youth Bill to lawmakers 02/04/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 4, 2012 3:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst


    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.