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High school student wants to change Indiana constitution

ELWOOD, Ind. (AP) – As soon as Elwood Community High School lets out at 3 p.m., Megan Stoner is on her phone. The drive home is a constant barrage of calls, with only seconds to catch her breath between hanging up and dialing another number.

She’s not making plans with friends to hang out at the mall or discussing the latest movie or music. Stoner is making calls to state senators and representatives, hoping to persuade them to vote on a bill she helped author.

Stoner’s career in politics started when she was 16 and worked as a clerk at the statehouse at a time when most people are just trying to figure out how to drive or taking up a first job.

Since then, she’s shadowed several legislators and worked with Anderson’s Jack Lutz in his failed bid for reelection as a state representative in 2014.

But now, as she prepares for high school graduation, she is focused on finding a way to “begin her legacy” by working with legislators to author a bill that would lower the age that people are eligible to run for office from 25 to 21 in the Senate and 21 to 18 in the House of Representatives.

“If you are old enough to fight for this country, why shouldn’t you be able to run for office?” she asked.

Stoner’s bill comes at a time when several states are reevaluating their age requirements for office. Georgia state Sen. Josh McKoon introduced legislation in 2015 that would lower the age from 25 to 21. States such as New Hampshire and Maine have already lowered their requirements, which allowed Joseph Sweeney, a republican representative from New Hampshire, to be elected at 20.

Rep. Greg Beumer, R-Modoc, introduced Stoner’s bill during last year’s short session. Beumer said that if an 18-year-old can get enough support to be elected he or she should be allowed to take office.

“The key to that is this doesn’t say that just any 18-year-old would have the maturity and ability to make mature decisions,” he said. “But I, personally, and I am sure many of us, have known some outstanding 18- and 21-year-olds who could.”

Beumer was introduced to Stoner after Rep. David Ober, R-Albion, opted not to introduce the bill because his docket was full. Ober passed the legislation along to Beumer.

The first time Beumer spoke to Stoner, he was impressed.

“One of the first times Megan and I had a conversation she was driving back from South Carolina after having attended the Republican debate,” he said. “A high school senior, who on her time and her dime drives to South Carolina to attend a debate, that is a person who is really committed to what we are trying to do. She would stand out in any group of young people.”

Stoner’s bill was ultimately referred to the Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedures during the 2016 short session of the General Assembly, but Beumer said he is confident the bill could be passed in the 2017 legislative session.

Regardless of what happens to the bill, Stoner’s mother, Gayle Stoner, said she admires her daughter’s tenacity and drive to make her mark on Indiana.

“I’m just really proud of her,” she said.