Scenes from the 84th Legislative Session

Jul 28, 2015, 08:48 AM by Melissa Harman

Our state Capitol is a beautiful place. It is a majestic building with a grand dome that is beautiful inside and out. As one walks through the front gates at 11th and Congress (the south side), the full grandeur of the building and grounds makes quite an impression.

Each day as I walk through those gates, I encounter people from all over our state and from all over the world coming in to see the Capitol building or to participate in the political process. Often the grounds are filled with school children and other groups who have come to see democracy in action. One might find a group from Paris, Texas, under a giant circus tent treating all the crowds to free barbeque, or a group of protesters / demonstrators lined up at the entrance on the street or on the Capitol steps with signs and chants on the topic of the day.

Everyone has their day at the Capitol:

  • Doctors Day (First Tuesdays), Chamber of Commerce Days, Nurses Day, OT Day, PT Day, Indian-American Day, Black Caucus Day, Muslim-American Day, Pro-Abortion Groups, Anti-Abortion Groups, State Employee Lobby Groups, Public School Lobby Groups, Home School Lobby Groups, Charter School Lobby Groups, et al. I think there may have even been a recognition for third cousins, once removed!
  • And on and on and on …..

It is everyone’s Capitol. Walk inside the entrance and through security (by the way, if you have a “concealed carry” permit, you can bypass security) and as you enter the great dome you will find lobbyists chatting with each other, tourists trying to get the best photo of the ceilings, posing in front of George W. Bush’s portrait for a photo, standing in the star in the center to hear the marvelous echo, laying down on the floor to get a photo of the rotunda (it is really easiest to just put your camera on the floor in the center of the star and shoot the picture; it will be perfect), and looking at all the great art on the entry walls depicting the Texas War for Independence, the Battle of San Jacinto, and portraits of Davy Crockett and others. And, don’t forget to check out the floors.

It is indeed overwhelming.

If you are under the great dome at noon, you may enjoy the music of a high school choir, a symphony, a mariachi band, or a country and western performance. You may bump into anyone from actors and musicians, to astronauts and Olympians. You will see millionaires and homeless people plodding the same halls. You will encounter every race, color, creed and religion in the world. You will see the able-bodied and the disabled, the old and the young, the gay and the straight, the immigrant and the undocumented, all in pursuit of their objectives related to the rules and regulations that govern lives.

Offices in the Capitol main building are reserved for members with greatest seniority. The House offices are located on the left (west) wing, and the Senate offices are located on the right (east) wing. The Speaker of the House has apartments in the west wing, as well as his main office suite. Other senior members also are located in this wing. On the east wing, the Lt. Governor’s suite of offices extends from the Ground (basement) all the way up to the top floor, along with senior Senators and their staffs. There are also member offices scattered through the north and south wings of the main structure.

On the north side of the Capitol is a vast undergrown structure filled with two floors housing member offices and hearing rooms. This is really the “guts” of activity during the committee process, where both the Senate Finance and the House Appropriations Committees meet, along with almost all other legislative committees. The public crowds into these hearings, often resulting in standing room only and/or use of “overflow” rooms. Hearings may last from a few hours to all night. Persons testifying related to bills may be few to many (more than 300). All must register to testify and must take a position of “for,” “against” or “on” the bill.

I hope you enjoy these images of Capitol life from the 84th Legislative Session.