Week 6 - From a Clerk's Perspective
It is the policy of Representative Holt to engage his legislative clerk in preparing one of his newsletters each session, to provide insight from a clerk’s perspective. Last year because of COVID-19, I got away without accomplishing this task.
This job entails so much more than the obvious secretarial skills of managing emails, scheduling requests, and preparing documentation for committee meetings.
As a clerk with 9 years of legislative experience, I understand the “extras” that can’t be touted on a resume. I often think of the dotted line trail of “Billy” of "The Family Circus" when people ask me what it is like to be a clerk in the Iowa House. Billy tries to accomplish a simple task…with just a few distractions! Do a google search: dotted line trail of billy of family circus and you will see what I mean.
I thought it may be fun to chronicle one day for you to get the inside scoop…
Tuesday of this week:
In by 7:30 am. ABATE (A Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education) is here and I hope to see old friends during their annual trek to the Capitol. Checked in with Rep. Holt to make sure he arrives to connect with constituents. He lets me know he is running behind…power is out in Denison and he is attending to those needing to keep safe and warm.
STICKY NOTE TO SELF: check with IUB Outage Reporting in case constituents need an update.
Rep. Holt arrives and launches into a lively discussion with an ABATE member. I take a picture and head back upstairs.
8:00 am. Back in the House Chamber to fire up the computer system and check on my Rep’s progress last evening. Saw that he answered constituent emails until 11:30 pm. Texted him KUDOS!
Began reorganizing the INBOX for priority responses and adding meetings to Rep. Holt’s already overcrowded schedule.
8:30 am. Pause for Gaveling in, Prayer, Pledge.
8:38 am. See email update for a revision agenda for Rep. Holt’s 2 pm committee meeting. Pull that committee binder and update agenda sheet and add newest bills under consideration. Continue email management.
8:55 am. Rep. Holt arrives in Chamber. I hand off his notes for his next meeting and walk him to the staff room, asking for direction on a few constituent emails that need attention from other government agencies. I head back to my desk and attend to more email.
9:12 am. Rep. Holt texts me for a bill that was left upstairs in his office. I run up to 3rd floor and retrieve it and then bring it back down to the 1st floor staff room.
9:15 am. Since I am away from my desk, I walk to the Chief Clerk’s Office area to retrieve the Judiciary Bills that were read aloud this morning. Five new bills. I added a sticky note to them to remind me Rep. Holt needs to look them over for subcommittee assignment.
9:17 am. I arrive back at my desk to find two completed subcommittee report sheets. I track down the Representatives to inquire as to the “mood” of each of the bills in question. One sailed through subcommittee, no problem. I sticky note that one.
The other needs an amendment and I received a boat load of explanation as to why…that I diffuse into one line on another sticky note, “This one ain’t movin’ fast.” I then text Amanda – THE ROCK STAR JUDICIARY CAUCUS STAFFER – the same info, so we all stay on the same page.
I copy both subcommittee papers and drop them off in the Chief Clerk’s Office so they can keep the legislation moving through the back halls of the Capitol that I have yet to explore, and file my copies in the clerk binder that I am responsible for as Judiciary Chair Clerk.
This binder requires a bit of time. Every meeting agenda, the minutes, subcommittee vote record sheets and full committee bill record sheets are to be kept organized – as this binder is submitted to the Legislative archives at the end of each General Assembly as a hard copy of what transpired in a committee, should electronic means ever fail.
Next, I update my spreadsheet with the new subcommittee information I received. Keeping a spreadsheet is VITAL on this committee.
At this point, I will throw some fun stats your way:
To date, Judiciary Committee has had 44 study bills drafted and have received 52 additional bills by other Representatives. At this point, we have 68 of those in (or have completed) the subcommittee process. This will not be the final count…more are delivered every day.
Of those 68, 38 have already moved through the full Judiciary Committee and await being called up for floor debate, at Leader Windschitl’s discretion.
I created a chart to put the bill volume into perspective:
As you can see, Judiciary is a heavy policy Committee.
Keep in mind the legislative process is both aided and hampered by self-imposed deadlines called “funnels”.
Aided: due to the sheer volume of bill topics that could be vetted in a single committee, there is no possible way to cover them all if there was no deadline to stop new ideas for the session year.
Hampered: in that if there is a really good piece of legislation that comes forward too late (perhaps from visiting with a constituent a few weeks into session), the Representative has a MUCH smaller window to get that legislation into a workable draft and referred to a committee to begin the journey of surviving the subcommittee and being voted out of full committee before the funnel.
For us this year, that funnel is Friday, March 5th. I’ve attached another picture to hopefully make all this verbiage clear.
10:14 am. I revisit the email account and see an onslaught of emails regarding Convention of States – both pro and con. File them in appropriate subfolder for a response. Notice another revision to afternoon committee. Pull the binder and make adjustments.
The mailroom awaits. I head out to the Rotunda and on my way a lobbyist stops me to ask for a meeting with Rep. Holt. I respond it is pretty tight schedule today. Undaunted, the lobbyist persists. I refer him to Amanda, which is not the answer he wanted.
I take a stack of bills and mail up to Rep. Holt’s desk in the office he shares with six other Representatives. He is busy at his computer. I know because I can hear his TAPPING of keys when I step through the door. I dislike interrupting his thought pattern, but know I need him to assign bills. He looks them over and hands me two right away. The other three he sets aside to ponder.
MENTAL STICKY NOTE: ask for those soon!
I offload his mail into his tray and let him know a certain lobbyist is asking for a meeting. “Have him talk to Amanda,” he drawls. I nod and smile to myself. Already done.
10:27 am. Arrive back in the Chamber with the two bills. I head to Ranking Member of Judiciary, Representative Mary Wolfe. She accepts the bills and says she will have them back to me in a short while. A short explanation for the reader: Usually there are three members to a subcommittee. Two are from the Majority Party and the other is from the Minority. Rep. Holt sets his two members, one of which will chair the subcommittee, and Rep. Wolfe is tasked with setting the third member. Once I receive the three names, I enter them into the system and create the subcommittee online, so the Chair of that subcommittee can begin the process.
10:32 am. Arrive back at my desk, realizing that I have yet to put the agenda together for the next day’s Judiciary Committee meeting. We are highly encouraged to have them published for committee members and the public 24 hours in advance. Meeting is at 2 pm next day. Need to get my act together. Begin spreadsheet search and consult with Amanda as to which bills are ready with amendments, etc.
11:05 am. About to send agenda to Rep. Wolfe and realize there is an amendment discrepancy, due to several revisions on a certain bill. Contact Amanda for clarity. We get it figured out and I email agenda to Rep. Wolfe. The way our system is set up, the Majority Party gives the list of bills and amendments, and any other business to the Minority Party for them to publish the committee agenda. This ensures that both sides know what will be happening in committee the next day.
11:08 am. I accept three more meeting requests from Amanda for the next hour and realize that Rep. Holt is booked straight through until floor debate is over tonight.
11:17 am. I receive a text from Rep. Holt to print off several documents pertaining to a bill he is working on and have them put into the binder that is upstairs so he can take it to a meeting.
11:26 am. Rep. Holt arrives to collect his binder with a sandwich in hand. He asks if I will take it upstairs to the frig, for him to eat later.
11:29 am. Call from Rep. Holt. Can I print off an additional copy of those bill notes and bring them down to the Assistant Leaders’ Office right away? Absolutely- If I keep this up, I will achieve my daily steps requirement before noon!
11:34 am. Back at my desk, at the same time as a Representative drops off two different subcommittee forms. I query the status of each, receive the information needed and sticky note them. Same process as before – make copies and deliver them to the Chief Clerk’s Office – and return to my desk. I just sit down and a new clerk asks for direction about one of our internal processes.
11:43 am. Another issue breaks loose via email. A group wants Legislators to release prisoners due to COVID. Thirty-plus emails arrive in a matter of minutes. I create a subfolder in Rep. Holt’s current events email and make a sticky note to report this to him.
11:46 am. While it is quiet for a bit, I have time to create a bill report so I can see at a glance any subcommittees that may be in trouble or need encouragement to clean up loose ends. I note a few to talk over with Rep. Holt. I see an email of a Representative asking for Rep. Holt to fill in for him during the Republican Caucus today. I print off the Rep’s comments and retrieve the study bill from the Bill Room for Rep. Holt.
11:58 am. I see Rep. Holt briefly and hand off my latest stack of items. Rep Holt asks if there can be an additional bookshelf brought into his office space, as he is running out of room for the numerous pieces of legislation he currently has underway. I go to the Chief Clerk to inquire about procuring said bookshelf. She let me know they had plenty of them in storage in all shapes and sizes. We guesstimated the size he would need for the area available and she told me she’d get back to me later.
12:07 pm. looking ahead on the calendar for the next day, I see Rep. Holt has a phone call with a constituent and he will need some research ahead of that. I attend to that task.
12:40 pm. Another 40 emails regarding prisoners and COVID-19 come in, among a myriad of other topics. I drop emails in their appropriate folders and continue scheduling meetings and getting committee books ready for the next day.
12:55 pm. I text Rep. Holt to let him know that the Republicans are caucusing at 1 pm. He texted he was there already. A sigh of relief for me. I didn't have to try to find him. Representatives have the uncanny knack for disappearing sometimes!
12:58 pm. Another text back: would you mind getting my folders from my desk upstairs? I head back up. Someone had been microwaving something pasta-related in the kitchenette beside Rep. Holt’s desk. My stomach growled and I realize I skipped lunch. I grab a granola bar and head back down to the Law Library where the Republicans are caucusing this year, due to COVID-19.
1:06 pm. Back in the Chamber, ready to pull bills for the evening’s debate.
1:39 pm. Republican Representatives begin arriving in the Chamber, as Caucus has ended. Rep. Holt runs upstairs to grab some lunch and return a couple of phone calls to folks that sent notes into the Chamber while he was away.
1:58 pm. Rep. Holt comes through the Chamber to collect his committee book before heading down to the first floor where it is held.
2:17 pm. The Chief Clerk finds me at my desk and offers me options for a bookcase. I choose one and she has it delivered. I head up to the office and remove old code books from Rep. Holt’s desk and rearrange on the new bookshelf. Instant improvement for his workspace!
2:53 pm. There is an issue with one of the bills moving through subcommittee and I track Rep. Holt down as he is coming back upstairs. We chat about a plan of action for this circumstance as I walk with him up to the 3rd floor for his next meeting to help mentor the Freshman legislators. I take his committee book back to the Chamber and process it for the next meeting.
4:00 pm. Floor debate is scheduled to start at any time. I look ahead at the next day’s schedule and tweak any new paperwork for those meetings.
4:45 pm. Looks like debate is about ready. Some of the bills are interesting and I decide to stay for a while. There are 13 Judiciary bills on the debate calendar and I want to see some of the discussion.
Thus, ends the chronicle of one of my days as clerk. No day is every the same – too many situations beyond any of our control switch our schedules frequently. To be sure, the work here is never dull.
I would be remiss if I didn’t end with a comment about the Statesman I clerk for. He runs a tight ship and steadfastly defends the principles this Country was founded upon, a very honorable thing these days.
Please reach out to Rep. Holt at 712-269-4042 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, should you have any concerns regarding legislation or issues with state government. And take note that he is having a forum in Harlan this week at the Chamber.
With warm regards,
UPCOMING LEGISLATIVE COFFEES:
Saturday, February 20th, 10am: Harlan
Saturday, February 27th, 10am: Facebook Live