Part of a Legislative Day: August 2004
PART OF A LEGISLATIVE DAY
During the regular session, I leave about 7:15AM about from our temporary home in Juneau to go to work at the state capitol. All legislators from out-of-town live in temporary quarters during the January to May session. My wife Marlene and I stay at the Driftwood Lodge motel.
After conferring with my staff, I head for my first committee meeting of the day: 8-10AM. Like most majority party House Members, I serve on four different committees. Committees are where the testimony, pro and con, is heard on bills. Most amendments to bills are made in committee.
After the first committee, it’s to the House chambers for the legislative session, which usually lasts two to three hours. A copy of the Anchorage Daily News is on our desks, and we check out how the previous day’s news was reported (or misreported). Yes, we do look at Letters to the Editor and editorials, to see if the we’ve been portrayed as heroes or villains.
When the “Daily Calendar” begins, the House Member sponsoring a bill stands and tells us why we should vote “yes” (like if we don’t vote “yes,” the sky will fall). The more popular the bill, the more legislators orate – thereby “scoring points (it’s hoped) with the TV audience back home. Opponents to the bill will do the same. Some legislators seem to be “vaccinated with a phonograph needle” – meaning they’ve discovered the secret of everlasting speech.
Too often, some legislator will call for an “at ease” in the proceedings. The TV camera remains on, but audio is off. Legislators will huddle in groups of two or three, to hold mini-debates or strategy sessions – especially on unexpected amendments. I joke we might have to extend the session to allow more time for “at eases.”
Several wonderful young people work in the House chamber as pages. They keep our water glasses filled, distribute amendments, and carry notes back and forth between representatives. We used to get in trouble in school for passing notes but, in the legislature, it’s acceptable. Some notes are like “what’s your opinion of this?” Other notes can be sarcastic or funny about someone speaking (tempting, but I shan’t share those).
Finally, it’s decision time. To vote, push the green “yes,” or the red “no” button, and our vote appears on the electronic tally board. Some legislators vote quickly, so their vote won’t be the one that makes or breaks a bill. After the vote, the Speaker of the House will ask if anyone wants to change their vote. Some legislators are infamous for changing their vote, in an attempt to be on the winning side. It’s also easy to make an honest mistake and accidentally push the wrong button. So far, I’ve never changed a vote for any reason.
After the floor session, it’s another committee, or back to the office to catch up on paperwork, to meet industry representatives (euphemism for lobbyists), or constituents. More about “the rest of the day” in another article. . .