You might have heard it mentioned before that Utah has one of the shortest annual legislative sessions. We meet for just 45 calendar days each year starting on the fourth Monday in January. There is a lot of work that must be done during the session. Our $13 billion budget must be balanced and there are nearly 1,000 bills that must be voted upon. Not to mention, legislators meet with dozens of interest parties and receive hundreds of emails, calls and letters each and every day during the session. Our legislative staff is relatively small because it is tough to justify a larger staff for such a short session. The Utah House of Representatives only has 5 full-time staffers who assist the 75 members of the chamber year-round. During the session, a small army of part-time staff and interns arrive to ensure the work gets done and the process runs as smoothly as possible.
The part-time staff consists of committee secretaries, clerks, and the sergeants at arms. These part-time staffers are oftentimes retirees that return year after year to help run the session. The compensation they receive isn’t very impressive, so I have to believe they return year after year because they truly enjoy the policy debates and long hours at the Capitol. They are giving back to the state in their own way each winter. We truly couldn’t do it all without them. Many of them have participated in more sessions than the legislators and are a fount of knowledge about hot issue from past sessions, a who’s who directory when you need to find someone, and carriers of critical information such as where the quiet corners are on a busy day.
Legislative interns are another critical group that we just couldn’t do without. With the exception of the speaker and minority leader, representatives don’t have any personal staff to help them organize meetings; answer emails, phone calls, and letters; or, do research on bills. The interns come from Utah’s colleges and universities and earn college credit and a small stipend for their time at the capitol. They are usually assigned to assist two legislators at a time. Many are political science majors that have a passion for politics, but others are majoring in other areas such as engineering, communications, or nursing. No matter where life takes the students after their semester at the capitol, they leave with an insider’s view of Utah politics and a greater appreciation for the process.
The session staff and interns are the unsung heroes of each session. They arrive early and stay until the last legislator leaves. Most people would never guess that we are able to accomplish so much work with a staff that spends the other 320 days a year in a variety of other pursuits. The state always needs people that have some spare time between January and March each year to assist the house and senate. If you have a passion for public policy, love listening to a good debate, and skiing just isn’t your thing С this might be a job for you!
Brad Wilson is writing a series of articles during the annual legislative session about the happenings on Capitol Hill. See more from Wilson and other legislators and post comments online at davisclipper.com.