"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Friday, February 23, 2007

Public Hearing...Rapid Blurbing...Winter Break!

Oh, what a week! Three consecutive days of legislating has taken its toll.

Yesterday morning I arrived at Representatives Hall for the public hearing. Tables, chairs, our nameplates and microphones were set up for our committee members in front of the well. Our Chairman moderated from the Speaker's Chair. Microphones were set up in the aisles. Many, many members of the public attended, from one end of the state to the other, and side to side.

And there we sat, confronted by a couple of hundred faces--or more. If not for my prior experience of public events and appearances, it might have been nerve-wracking and/or intimidating.

All the persons giving testimony--on both sides of the issue--were passionate, committed, informed, and experienced. Mostly I listened and took notes, but I did ask some questions and received enlightening answers.

Altogether, the hearing lasted nearly 5 hours. We began at 10 and took a lunch break around 12:30. The Chap was there for the latter part of the morning, meaning we were able to lunch together in the House Cafeteria, aka "The Dark Dungeon." Its lack of ambience is appalling, but the soup and cookies on offer are always tasty!

My man and I settled at our favourite table (close to a dungeon window high up in the dungeon wall) and I was able to vent a little bit--actually, a lot. After hours of sitting quietly hearing other people, I really needed to speak! And emote.

We re-convened at 1. A camera crew was filming in the corner. From the badges the interview participants were wearing, it looked as though the interview involved both supporters and opponents of the legislation. I'm really not sure what was going on, and I didn't recognise the crew.

You can see the semi-circle arrangement of the committee's tables at the bottom of the shot.

While waiting for the crowd to re-assemble and the rest of the committee and our Chair to emerge from the Dungeon, some of us whipped out our cameras for a photo-op. A committee colleague snapped me at the table.

To my own eyes, I look disconcertingly official. (That nameplate!) It's not like I've never been dressed up in nice clothes and seated at a table, but in my previous experience I was surrounded by stacks of books for autographing.

We then heard another 2+ hours of testimony.

I'm deliberately not mentioning the specific legislation, or its sponsor. There's controversy and conflict attached to it (and him) and I don't want any of it migrating to my blog. An identical bill was defeated when last proposed, a decade ago.

The vast majority of speakers, email and letter writers, and phone callers are in strong opposition to it. The minority supporting the bill made a very strong emotional appeal. Our Chair, wisely I feel, did not allow any "show and tell" of the items referenced in this legislation.

In a couple of weeks or more our committee will make its determination. It promises to be an interesting discussion.

I choose to describe my experience because it's another of those "firsts"--plus, on my committee a public hearing this big and high-profile is not the norm.

After the hearing adjourned at 3 p.m. the committee members picked up their voluminous stacks of printed testimony--and our nameplates--and hurried over to the Legislative Office Building for an Executive Session on four bills. (At that late hour, we barely had the necessary quorum).

According to the rules, the person who moves consent to a bill is responsible for writing the blurb (description) to be printed in the legislative calendar. For most members of the House, this pithy précis is the only information they'll have about the substance of the bill and the committee's rationale in decision-making.

Our Chair wants to ensure that all committee members get a chance to blurb...and most of the people present had already done so. When we came to final bill, and after we passed the amendment attached to it, it was time for somebody to move consent.

The Chairman looked over at me.

"Representative Porter, you haven't written a blurb yet, have you?"

I didn't want to be unhelpful, but because I respect the importance of a decent blurb and seriously doubted my abilities, I expressed reluctance. Blurb writing happens immediately after the Exec. Session, and it must be approved by the Chairman and handed over to the committee secretary for typing practically on the spot.

We were short-handed, so I responded to the need. Bowing to the inevitable, I consented to move "Ought to Pass." Which it did.

You'd think, for a professional, award-winning, Who's Who designated author, cranking out several sentences--a single paragraph--would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, I had no brain left. I felt numb.

But I did it anyway. As blurbs go this one was about as easy as they come. Our decisions on the amendment and the bill were unanimous. It was non-controversial--granting an easement to the Fish and Game Department for dam maintenance and allowing public recreational access to a specific water body located in a conservation area.

You wouldn't believe how much angst I suffered over the hundred or so words that I hastily composed. Compared to a 100,000 word novel it was nothing. But I'd never done this before, I'm a perfectionist addicted to revision, and I had to complete this task in a matter of minutes. So I scribbed a first draft, then made a fresh copy of a second draft. I honestly don't know if it's a good blurb or a sucky blurb, but the Chairman (who was writing a blurb of his own) approved it. I thanked him for "making" me blurb, and thanked God the secretary was able to read my scrawl.

When I fled the LOB just before 5 p.m. I did so with a major sense of accomplishment. And relief.

And a soaring sense of liberation. As of today, my Winter Break has begun. I won't return to my duties in House until March 6th.

I shall be older then, the result of celebrating a birthday in the interim, but probably no wiser.

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