It's Time to Meet: If walls could talk, those that house legislative committees might have a lot to say.

Author:Warnock, Kae
Position:STAFF WEEK: LEGISLATURES
 
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The use of committees in American state legislatures had a slow start. Standing committees, as we know them today, were rare in the colonies. Massachusetts had one. Delaware, Georgia and New York each had two. Only Virginia had a whole system of six committees in place by the time of the American Revolution--a fact well known to the man who conceived the state capitol's design.

"The system became so central to the legislative process that when Thomas Jefferson sketched plans for a new capitol building in 1776, he designed separate rooms for each of the six standing committees," writes historian Mark Wenger in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, the quarterly journal of the Virginia Historical Society.

Legislatures have come a long way since then, as standing committees are now central to the lawmaking process. Today, some states use many (55 in the Illinois House), while others get by with just a few (six in the Maryland Senate).

"Every legislative house should have enough committees to enable it to develop some expertise in different subject areas, and to examine individual proposals in detail," the Citizen Conference on State Legislatures stated in 1971, "but it should not have so many committees that it becomes difficult or impossible to relate different bills and proposals to one another, and to consider them in terms of a single, unified policy."

States use committees to streamline the process. It's where the public "has its say" and where the committee, with everyone in the room, hashes out the details. As Bryant R. Howe, deputy director of the Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, puts it: "Size, setting, lighting, layout, technology, ADA access, remote access technology (like they have in Alaska and Nevada), AV systems, adequate public seating, lines of sight, a quality PA system and location are all factors that make up having an optimum legislative committee room and therefore an optimum legislative committee meeting. Location matters--in real estate and in legislatures."

As Varied as Legislative Chambers

"While legislative chambers tend to be magnificent halls, legislative committee rooms favor functionality over opulence. The very setup of the room helps set the tone for the meeting," says Scott Maddrea...

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