By Debi Brazzale, COLORADO NEWS AGENCY
With the elections behind them, freshman lawmakers have now embarked on an equally challenging endeavor—learning the ropes of the legislative process. In new-member training sessions scheduled this month and next, incoming lawmakers are getting a crash course on everything from sponsoring bills to wielding parliamentary procedure–i.e., the stuff that rarely make news but that consumes most of the legislature’s time every session.
On hand in the House of Representatives at one of the orientation sessions last week was the outgoing Democratic majority leader, Paul Weismann, of Louisville, who led the freshman class in a scripted dress-rehearsal of procedure on the House floor. The lesson involved some pretty basic, but essential, advice.
“When you vote, push your button, look up at the board to make sure it’s the color that you want, and that you actually vote,” said Weismann. “Don’t hold your button down –or it wipes it out.”
Rep.-elect Janek Joshi, a Colorado Springs a Republican, said the procedure on the House floor is not unlike meetings among physicians and that a certain analogy is applicable to both physicians and lawmakers.
“As physicians we are independent-minded, so when we have meetings, we say it’s like herding cats. I’ve heard that same expression today,” said Joshi.
Joshi said the hardest part for him may not be the labyrinth of procedural rules but getting to know the staff.
“The biggest thing is trying to learn all the different staff members, who does what, and that’s a little bit overwhelming,” said Joshi.
Fellow freshman Roger Wilson, a Glenwood Springs Democratic representative-elect, who overtook the incumbent unaffiliated Rep. Kathleen Curry, said that he is so far very impressed with the pros who run the legislature day-to-day.
“All of Colorado citizens should be very proud of legislative staff,” said Wilson.
Wilson is an engineer by trade, but he was on the debate team in high school and dabbled in theater as a one-time major in college. Asked whether his theater training will become evident on the House floor, Wilson joked that he’d prefer to confine it to, “the privacy of my own home, but we’ll see.”
Freshmen in the House will be spending the next few weeks acclimating to their new environment by attending Joint Budget Committee meetings, and all the representatives-elect will be concentrating on submitting five bills–the maximum allowed–for drafting.
Wilson said he has no shortage of ideas but will have to whittle down his ideas.
“I have a lot of ideas. I have approximately 15 bills right now,” said Wilson. “It’s a matter of pairing them down and figuring out what the right thing to do is for the people of this state and what we can actually accomplish in this legislature.”
Joshi said he is not sure yet what he will concentrate his five bills on. However, he said, looking to his constituents will be one strategy and drawing on his medical background will be another.
“Everybody wants to do something for their constituents, and if we keep that in mind, I think we will all do well,” he said. “I will probably be looking at areas in health care.”
One thing is certain for all the new members: Their time will no longer be their own.
“I understand that there will be people who will want to put themselves on my agenda such as lobbyists–and tons of emails–so it will be a matter of prioritizing among those inputs as well as people in my district,” said Wilson.