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How I feel about legislative committee meetings.
How I feel about legislative committee meetings.

I got the best email this past Tuesday. My supervisor emailed me from the Forum’s Asheville candidate briefing to ask me to attend a House education committee meeting the next day. Education policy nerd WIN! After kind of a slow start to the week, I was so excited to get out of the office and report on happenings in the Legislative Office Building.

On Wednesday, the committee met to review and vote on passage of House Bill 1080 which would establish an Achievement School District (ASD) and two other school turnaround pilot programs in the state. I spent Wednesday morning reading up on the legislation and what other policy organizations had previously written about the ASD. That afternoon, Abby, our other intern, and I drove over to the Legislative Office Building a few minutes before the committee meeting was scheduled to start. I am near giddy as walking up the steps to the LOB.

When we get inside, we double check the meeting schedule and have our first indication our afternoon at the legislature might not go as planned: the committee meeting has been moved from 2:45 until “15 minutes after session.” Hmmm… Well, they convened at 2:00 and there’s only four bills on the schedule. How long can that take?

At 3:00 we ask a group of lobbyists or staffers – not sure which – still chatting in the committee room after the previous meeting to confirm we’re in the right place and reading the House schedule correctly. We are indeed in the right spot, and no, there’s no way to know when the House will convene their session and start the committee meeting. Bummer.

After digging around the General Assembly’s website a bit more on my phone (which is quickly losing battery, I might add), I discover the House has already finished voting on three of the four bills on their schedule. However, the live audio feed shows them deep in discussion of a bill not on the published schedule. It’s approaching 4:00 pm. I ask Abby if she wants to stay. We decide to wait it out a while longer. It passes 4:00, then 4:30. The House feed still shows them debating the unscheduled bill. My phone hits 16% battery. We decide to email our supervisor for guidance, deeply divided by a desire to hear the committee discussion and by the unknown of how much longer session will run. Just as our supervisor emails back to say we can leave, the House moves on to the final bill on their schedule. Abby and I decide to gamble there won’t be more unscheduled bills and cross all our fingers and toes they don’t cancel the committee meeting. We get lucky, and the House adjourns at 5:00. The committee meeting starts right on schedule at 5:15.

For the next hour and half, we hear the legislators discuss the bill, its three school reform programs, funding mechanisms, a proposed amendment. It was TOTALLY worth the wait. Abby and I are on fire on the way home – can’t stop talking, rehashing comments and questions from legislators, and imagining implementation if it were to pass the full legislature. The questioning of the bill sponsor by other legislators reminded me strongly of clips of Supreme Court hearings. Many would ask a series of building questions, where the final one would be their actual point or argument. It was such an interesting process, and quite the way to learn about the phenomenon of “legislative time.”

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