When the Honolulu City Council considered Bill 40 in 2019 to ban the sale of styrofoam products and some single-use plastic products, a good many of the testifiers in support were members of Generation Z — that is, persons born after 1996.

Millennials (persons born between 1981 and 1996) have also taken “a keen interest in activism on a wide array of issues, including the environment, tobacco control, and ensuring that Hawaii remains a desirable place to live.”

That’s according to a 2019 resolution that was approved in July. Because of it, the Nov. 3 general election ballot asks whether a Youth Commission should be established.

The idea came from Councilman Tommy Waters, who introduced a resolution to that effect last year.

Newly Sworn in Honolulu Councilmember Tommy Waters.
Newly sworn in Honolulu Councilmember Tommy Waters was draped in lei last year. He introduced the council resolution that has resulted in the Youth Commission charter question on the ballot this fall. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

As the resolution explains, the council believes that such a commission advising the council and mayor on issues relating to children and youth “would give youth a greater role in the policymaking process, develop future leaders,” as well as help the city develop public policy that addresses the concerns and needs of all residents.

Resolution 19-329 received broad support as it made its way through Honolulu Hale, including from Kamehameha Schools, the Hawaii Public Health Institute, the Sierra Club’s Oahu chapter and HMSA’s Blue Zones Project, which encourages volunteerism “as a powerful way to live with purpose,” according to written testimony.

But some of the most passionate endorsements came from youth like Dyson Chee, an 18-year-old and recent high school graduate living in the Ala Moana area.

“The youth commission would be an opportunity for us to take youth civic engagement to the next level and for us youth to have meaningful and impactful real-life experience in the governmental process,” testified Chee, who represents a group called the Hawaii Youth Climate Coalition.

Similarly, Perry Arrasmith, a recent college and local public school graduate (Harvard College ’20, Aiea High School ’16), said in written testimony, “I recognize that the island’s future is my future. More than any other demographic group, I argue that Oahu’s youth will be most impacted by those decisions facing Honolulu County’s leaders in the present-day. It is certain that many of us will call Oahu home for the next half-century or more.”

If passed by Oahu voters, the Youth Commission would have 15 members between the ages of 14 to 24 at the time of appointment. The mayor would appoint six commissioners while each of the nine council members would appoint one member each.

Members who are not 18 and older would be exempt from city financial disclosure requirements. The commission, which would be set up under the city’s managing director, would also have the ability to hire staff if it feels it is necessary to do its work.

Diversity was important to several testifiers, including Jun Shin, a junior at the University of Hawaii Manoa and a member of Young Progressives Demanding Action. Shin recommended that the commission include “underserved and disenfranchised communities such as Native Hawaiians and Micronesians,” and to include male and female youth who have been houseless, involved in the criminal justice system and in foster care.

The Youth Commission charter question is one of four charter questions for Honolulu voters this fall. They are also being asked to decide whether the city prosecutor should be limited to just two terms of four years each, and whether there should be changes made regarding the budget and staffing of the Honolulu Ethics Commission.

Separately, there are also a number of charter questions on the ballot for voters in Maui, Kauai and Hawaii counties.

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