At noon on Monday, Jan. 12, 2004, the legislative session began across the state in Olympia. What happens during the first session? Can the Senate and House of Representatives get right down to work?
Let's set the scene for the 2004 session. I was in the makeshift Senate quarters a little before noon. The senators walked into the chamber, sometimes singly, sometimes in a group. They greeted each other, especially welcoming the newly elected or appointed members.
I sensed an excited buzz of chatter and a very friendly atmosphere. It seemed like old friends gathering.
Since the Capitol building is still being renovated after the earthquake, the Senate chamber is just a large room in the former Joel Pritchard State Library building. There is no balcony for onlookers as in the Legislative building, so there is little room for visitors. A back corner serves for the media who cover Olympia and a few family members sat on chairs. The room is crowded and noisy, but order is soon called.
Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen presides over the Senate. When he bangs the gavel three times everyone stands. One bang denotes being seated. Senate tradition demands that we stand each time someone other than a Senator is introduced, when the flag is brought down the aisle, and at various other times.
After the State troopers presented the colors and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, an opening prayer was given. Next the Senate was welcomed to Olympia by one of the Lakefair princesses. This was followed by messages from the Governor and other state officers read by the clerk. Justice Barbara Madsen was then escorted to the rostrum to swear in the four new members.
Then the year's floor work began. Bills were introduced and referred to their committees. Committee membership was approved by resolution. Messengers were sent to both the House and the Governor informing that the Senate was organized and ready for business. Finally the cut-off dates were approved by resolution.
Most of the real work of the House and the Senate does not happen on the floor. It is done in hearings, in committee meetings, in meetings between members, and in the caucus meetings. I saw many senators talking to others about various ideas or bills they want to sponsor. The real work was already happening. The work in the chambers makes it official.
Remember, you are part of this action. Each member represents a certain number of constituents who bring their ideas, their concerns, their problems to their legislator. They do this work to make this state a better place for all of us.
I write this column weekly during the session to help connect you to the people, the issues, and the places that are important to you. I want to share with you my experiences here across our state.
Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), provides "Across our state" as her take on the happenings that are currently underway in Olympia.