Haley Ham still hasn't reached voting age, but she wants to inspire her fellow Tennesseans to consider their role in democracy.
This week marks lawmakers' return to the state capitol for the start of the legislative session. The 108th General Assembly convened Tuesday in Nashville.
Ham knows from experience, lawmakers can't help people until they recognize an issue. That's where the citizens come in.
"I think that it's our responsibility as American citizens to speak our minds, and to say what we believe," said 17-year old Ham. "For our government to work properly, they have to know what we think. They have to have our support and our help."
Ham became a part of the legislative process a few years ago, after her two pet dogs' untimely death.
The pets died from anti-freeze poisoning – a toxin that once tempted animals and small children with its sweet taste. It was a loss Ham would spend many of her teenage years ensuring no other family would experience.
"Going into it, I had a confidence that our government would prevail, that our government would stand up for me and for my dogs. And, they did," she said.
Signed by Governor Phil Bredesen in 2008, the "Haley Ham Law" took effect in 2010. Today, anti-freeze sold in Tennessee must have a bittering agent to deter children and pets.
"Sometimes I look back and think-- how many animals are there today, or even children, that are alive that might not be had I not stepped up and had I not said what I believed?" Ham said. "And that's something that I really do take pride in."
Ham's experience working with lawmakers set the path for her future. She is waiting for the results of her college applications, and plans to study law after getting her undergraduate degree. Until then, she keeps up-to-date on the issues debated in her home state.
As for a career? An obvious choice.
"Politics! I most definitely want to go into politics," she said with a smile.
With one bill under her belt already, this teenager knows the road to change is tough.
"It is a battle, but it's a worthy one to fight," she said.
She hopes someone else decides to step up, too.