No Jeans on the Senate Floor – Tips for a successful trip to State Legislature.

Legislative Bus Trip. Rescheduled.

The ad said:

“Farm Bureau would like you to join us on a comfortable charter bus to the State Legislature. Noon Lunch Furnished. Pickup times are as follows: …. Everyone Welcome. Please call if you would like to make the trip”

I’m not certain if I really wanted to watch my state’s legislature in action or if I just needed to get out of town for a day. But I made the call, set my alarm for 5, and got on that bus.

Impromptu Capital Visit

Normally, I put in so much effort into planning trips that I’m super stressed by trip-time. This trip, not so. I booked the trip the day before I left, did zero research, and had a blast. I also learned some tips that can make your visit just a little bit easier.

  • “Go With the Flow” was the theme of the day. From my first activity to the last, I witnessed how important flowing and being flexible is.
  • No Jeans on the Senate Floor! Appropriate attire is required. In my state capital, this means no hats, no caps, no gum, covered shoulders, and NO BLUE JEANS!
  • Eat Early. If you go to the Capital Café at noon, expect to wait. In line. A long time.

That’s it in a nutshell.

Shortest Blog Ever.

Seriously, here is the full story:

The pickup spot was a gas station about a half hour from my home. A half-dozen older gentlemen waited. Up pulled a dirty yellow bus and someone shouted, “There it is!” Another said “Nope, that’s Frank” and then went outside to visit with “Frank” while he filled up the school bus before his morning run.

Another whispered “I’ve never been on a bus trip before.” This guy was about 70 and had probably driven a tractor most every day of his life.

Finally, a fancy bus with carpeted walls, seats, and ceiling pulled up. The floor was faux-wood laminate. An older lady greeted us at the door, checking off our names as we stepped up. My last name had acquired the extra letters “son.” I guess that meant I was “under cover” for this trip.

The doors closed, and we were on our way! A second lady (who was acting as a stewardess, passing out coffee and donuts) commented “The farm kids go to the city trip is on!” I laughed. The median age of this group was well over retired.

The Lobbyists

The local Farm Bureau arranged this trip. That is why two Farm Bureau lobbyists met us at security. They passed out folders containing miscellaneous Farm Bureau paraphernalia and a unique pen that took me about 10 minutes to uncover its secret (push the clip down to get ink – I have never seen that in a pen before). I kept dropping my folder, so I stuffed the important components in my bag (including the odd pen) and found a discrete trash can for the rest.

The lobbyists hurried us to where our local state senator was in committee. Our bus had arrived 30 minutes late. Whoever planned our trip was a fast driver. According to Google Maps, the trip should have taken two hours and 45 minutes and that is what it took.

Go With the Flow Part I

Our group snuck into the back of the hearing room, in time to catch the ending of the morning’s agricultural bill hearings. We got to hear exactly two minutes of discussion and one vote. My district’s senator took the time to introduce our group to the committee chair, which was kind-of nice.

The committee hearings are where our elected officials review bills before they are presented to the Floor for a vote. Each committee has a theme: agricultural committee, arts committee, transportation committee, etc. They only review bills that fit in their theme. The committee goes through bills with a fine-toothed comb then votes on judgements for each “ought to pass” or “ought not to pass.” The bill is moved to the “Floor” and the entire house or senate votes. A giant screen states the committee’s opinion for the entire Floor to see.

Other times, the committee is given the task of amending the bill to correct errors, making it better, etc. The sponsor of the bill doesn’t always get the language right on the original version. The committee makes amendments to fix the bill, then resubmits the bill to the Floor. I am not a politician and I am not clear on what triggers the creation of amendments. That bit of knowledge will have to wait for the next tour.

After the hearing, the lobbyists took us on a quick tour of both the house Floor and the senate Floor. That was it on our agenda until after lunch. A quick explanation of what would happen when the session opened at 1pm, and then we had free time until lunch.

I had been to my state’s capital before and remembered the fantastic views from the observation deck. I told hostess #2 that I would be back at the designated lunch time (11:45) and cruised up up up on the elevator. Fabulous views galore!

Go With the Flow Part II

Sometime between when I left my group and the meeting time, my group changed the lunch-meeting-time to 11:30. Alas, I was either eight minutes late or seven minutes early.

Nearby, my district’s state senator was conversing with the governor. He had promised to join our group for lunch, and I’m glad he did. His conversation wrapped up, and he noticed lonely me. I suddenly had a classy escort to the Capital Café (made me feel like a lady) and showed me around the lunch room.

The line for the grill extended all the way to vital records. I think this meant that one could either be born or die while waiting in line.

The Farm Bureau group was at the front of the line. Hostess #2 had, upon recommendation from the lobbyists, moved the time up in order to avoid the line. And a line there was!

I skipped the grill line in favor of the salad bar and entre (wild rice and chicken) lines so that I could sit with my group. These lines were deserted, and the food was probably healthier. The Farm Bureau group had arrived early enough that they were able to hit the grill before the rush.

No Blue Jeans on the Senate Floor

“Appropriate attire” should have been highlighted, bolded, had its own section of the newspaper ad.

I said I didn’t plan out this trip. Even if I had, I would not have found any details about “Appropriate Attire.” I went back to my state’s website later to check, and this is all I found: “Suitable attire does not include articles of clothing that depict, promote, or advertise violence or the use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, or that display pictures, writing, or representations that are obscene, profane, lewd, vulgar, or sexually suggestive, or that have rips, tears, or holes. Caps are not allowed to be worn in the legislative chambers or at the Supreme Court.” Nothing, not one word, about blue jeans. Or black jeans, or tan jeans.

Photography and cell phone use is not allowed. No jeans. No gum chewing, no drinks or food. And don’t touch anything brass!

Luckily, the Jeans Rule only applies to if you want to tour the actual Floor of the chamber. The Floor is the main part of the chamber, where our elected officials sit. In our state, the Jeans Rule is only for the senate, not the house. Google tells me the rules of attire are even more stringent in DC.

According to the signage, the photography rule also only applies to the state senate.

And yes, there are officials who patrol the balcony and visitors’ section to enforce all rules. The lady next to me accidentally touched the brass rail, and I forgot to take my cap off. The officials come out of nowhere, touching you on your shoulder and issuing a very quiet discipline. Chastised.

Transportation and Grapes

Two votes stood out as exceptional: one veto over-ride vote and one contentious vote.

Last week, our governor vetoed an increase in a transportation fee. The transportation fee would raise over five million dollars for the department, covering a current budget shortfall. Our governor said no, this money was better left in citizens’ pockets. The debate on Floor changed from rather dull to animated, passionate even. “A vote for this bill will support our transportation department but will go against our governor.” An equal strong voice argued against the bill.

If the transportation bill fueled heated debate, then grapes fueled a wildfire. Perhaps it was their increased alcohol content.

This contentious bill received an “ought not to pass” from the agriculture committee. If passed, it would allow local wineries to process out-of-state grape ingredients and label the end product “Made in Our State.” Contentious in that the bill did not support our local growers, did not support our local university that was developing new varieties of grape for winery use, did not support our state. The bill failed by one vote.

A senate committee amended the bill and it was reintroduced the next day. The senate passed it by two votes. Still controversial.

The grape bill was a “House Bill,” meaning that a representative sponsored the bill (as opposed to a senator). The house had previously passed the original version of the bill. Next session, the house will need to pass the senate’s amended version.

Once both chambers, or Floors, pass the same version of the bill, it goes to the Governors desk for final approval. Will our governor approve the labeling of out-of-state grapes as local wine? I suppose that will depend on what sort of wine connoisseur he is.

Go With the Flow Part III

The action on the Floor only spanned from 1pm until 3pm this day. Two hours to discuss and vote on umpteen bills.

At 3pm, the committee hearings started anew.

I scanned the schedule and found one labeled “Racing Committee.” I like watching NASCAR and my local dirt-track races, so I thought “Okay, let’s see what the Racing Committee has to say”.

I have no idea WHY it was called “Racing Committee” as they didn’t discuss anything about racing!

What did stick with me from this committee is

  1. Committee rooms are hot and stuffy
  2. Ladies are allowed to wear no pantyhose and dresses that have diamond-shaped holes cut into the arms. They are stylishly semi-naked, but apparently appropriately dressed.
  3. The gentlemen look hot (as in overheated) in their suits and ties
  4. GO WITH THE FLOW continues to reign king

From the Racing Committee Chair, “I know that Bill xxyy is on the agenda, but I’d like to address Bill yyxy instead.” Silent groans, one smirk, even an eyeroll. It was like a private joke but not one sound of disapproval was heard. Each committee member gracefully put one binder away and took out the next. IMPRESSIVE! I wish I had that discretion in the workplace!

Go With the Flow Part IV

The committee finished up five minutes before the Farm Bureau’s scheduled departure. I arrived at the designated meeting site on time. Hostess #1 counted us up – everyone was present except for hostess #2 (the lady who changed the lunch time). A part of me wondered if she had changed the departure meeting time and forgot to tell anyone!

We boarded the bus to await our hostess #2. Shoes off, feet up, everyone was comfortable.

Then, hostess #2 got on the bus announcing, “Picture time!”

Feet down, shoes on, back outside.

I had to laugh. If I spend enough time observing politics, I may just master how to

GO WITH THE FLOW!

I hope you enjoyed my impromptu visit to state legislature. This was my journey. Please share yours! 

Liz

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