[r72] A Clere view of the Statehouse: Take a page from here and visit Statehouse (1/3/2011)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Start Date: 1/3/2011 All Day
End Date: 1/3/2011
In last week's column, I suggested some ways to connect with state government. This week, as the 2011 legislative session gets under way, I want to focus on a special opportunity.

Students ages 13 to 18 may serve as a legislative page for a day. It's a hands-on, behind-the-scenes chance to learn about state government, and every student should take advantage of it at least once. Not enough students from Southern Indiana do. Last year, I had fewer than two dozen pages all session. Most days, there are at least that many students present from the Indianapolis area alone. Please share this column with students and their parents and help me encourage more young people from our area to participate. Availability is limited, so requests should be made as soon as possible.

It's a full day, starting with an early-morning drive to Indianapolis. Pages receive a tour of the Statehouse, including the governor's office, the lieutenant governor's office, the Supreme Court and the House and Senate chambers. Pages get to sit on the House or Senate floor during session, and they may be asked to deliver messages to members or perform other light tasks, such as stuffing envelopes. Mostly, however, they are there to observe and learn.

Pages receive an excused absence from school. They are responsible for their own transportation and lunch. Parents or chaperones also receive a tour, and I always try to make time for both the students and the adults who are with them.

Some days of the week and times during the session are better than others for serving as a page. To start planning, contact my legislative assistant, Clinton Bohm. Make sure you communicate directly with him. There is a separate page office, but I prefer to be more personally involved with scheduling. The page office does a great job but can't keep track of the details of every legislator's schedule. I want every one of my pages to have the best possible experience, and picking a good day is important. E-mail cbohm@iga.in.gov, or call 1-800-382-9841.

The page program is for students in middle school and high school, but the Statehouse is open to all. Just because you're too old to be a page doesn't mean you can't have many of the same experiences. In fact, I encourage people of any age to visit the Statehouse. Please e-mail or call to arrange your visit as far ahead of time as possible, and I will try to make it meaningful and memorable.

Of course, not everyone is able to visit the Statehouse in person, but that doesn't mean you can't keep up with what's going on. Newspaper coverage is a good start, and there are many good sources for additional information. Last week, I mentioned several. In case you missed them, I'm going to list them again.

The Indiana General Assembly's website is www.in.gov/legislative. It includes a wealth of information and resources, and floor sessions and committee meetings are broadcast live and archived on the website. This year, for the first time, all committee meetings will be broadcast. That means every hearing on every bill will be available for viewing.

Thanks to the Internet, you can also tune in to programming that isn't broadcast on TV or radio in this part of the state.

"Indiana Week in Review" airs weekly on Indianapolis public television and public radio. It's available online at www.wfyi.org/indianaweekinreview.asp. On the website, you can also sign up to receive weekly e-mail or text alerts of show topics.

While the legislature is in session, there is another weekly show, "Indiana Lawmakers," a roundtable that features elected officials, journalists and other political observers. Information is at www.wfyi.org/indianalawmakers.asp.

Whether you visit in person, read the newspaper or keep up on the Internet, it's an important time to be paying attention to state government. The legislature starts meeting this week and will probably be in session until the end of April. Over the next four months, the decisions that are made will affect every Hoosier.

Some issues will receive a lot of attention. The state budget, legislative redistricting, the unemployment trust fund and K-12 education reform will make headlines, as will many other hot topics. Many issues, however, will receive little, if any, media attention. That doesn't mean they aren't important. In fact, some of those issues may be very important to you, even if they don't rate front-page coverage.

With that in mind, please contact my office if there are specific issues you would like to know about. Next week is the deadline for filing bills, and after the deadline passes, we will have an idea of the topics that will be considered during the session. There will be hundreds of bills. Most will not become law, but many will. Even if a bill isn't filed on a particular subject, the issue may still come up as a proposed amendment to a bill. If you feel an issue isn't receiving proper attention, please let me know.

In the meantime, if you know any students in middle school or high school, please share this column with them or their parents. Help me encourage them - along with folks of all ages - to visit the Statehouse.