November 30, 2010

New faces learn State House ropes as four-day training begins

By Susan M. Cover
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- They asked about seat assignments and water bottles.

They got clarification on how to address the entire chamber.

And they learned how to talk to reporters.

New lawmakers -- some totally new to legislative service and others who took a break or switched chambers -- began four days of training Monday that will teach them about the state budget, what's in the law library, what ethics rules apply to them and what's going on in other states.

"I'm looking forward to everything about the whole process," said Rep.-elect Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea. "There's so much to absorb at once."

Unlike the first round of training that took place shortly after they were elected, these sessions would be more policy-oriented, said David Boulter, executive director of the Legislative Council.

"This week will be a little more substantive," he said.

The 53 nonincumbent House members out of a total of 151 -- and 14 nonincumbent senators out of 35 -- started the day in their respective chambers to get some lessons in legislative etiquette.

In the House, one new member wanted to know when he would be assigned a seat. Majority Republicans are still working on that, but would likely be done by the end of the day, said House Clerk Millie MacFarland, who will be leaving legislative service now that Republicans have taken over the chamber.

"Your desk number and your locker number will be the same," she said.

Over in the Senate, outgoing Senate Secretary Joy O'Brien and her replacement, Joseph G. Carleton Jr., shared the duty of explaining how things work.

Food isn't allowed, but sometimes members hide candy in their desks, O'Brien said.

If you have a cold, it's OK to keep a water bottle at your desk, as long as the top is on.

And, when addressing the chamber, it's all about proper etiquette.

"You can't refer to the governor and you can't refer to the actions of the House," she said. "You can't call commissioners out by name."

Carleton then added: "There are rules of civility. They are designed to take personalities out of debate."

By late in the afternoon, Rep.-elect Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, sipped on a caffeinated soda.

"It's a lot of information," he said. "Right now, I think the tough thing is going to be working with the budget. Everything is going to be looked at in that light."

At another session, Gene Rose, director of communications for the National Conference of State Legislatures, talked about the importance of continuing to communicate with voters.

He also gave hints about dealing with the media.

He explained that when talking to a reporter, everything is on the record and could end up in the newspaper or on television.

"When you are talking to a reporter, it's a presentation, not a conversation," he said. "Once you open your mouth to a reporter -- it's fair game."


Susan Cover -- 620-7015

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