MISSOURINET CAPITOL STUDIO (Wednesday afternoon, 4:45 p.m.) Debate in the Senate has driven me to the quiet sanctity of the Missourinet’s studio office on the first floor of the capitol, two floors beneath the chamber, to ponder the fact that the legislature resumed its session this week after a ten-day spring break. The legislature has had a lot of starting and stopping dates for sessions just during the thirty-(mumble) years the Missourinet has been telling people some of the things that have happened here. But the real old-times had the best idea about scheduling legislative sessions.
You see, there is a certain feeling in this building that when daylight savings time comes in, the legislature should go out. The air warms. Light stays in the sky longer. There is a feeling among many who work here in one role or another that we want to be FREE. Instead, lawmakers will drone, shout, verbally spar and wrestle, and even rise to eloquence now and again for more than six more weeks while the rest of the state is feeling the great spiritual lift that DST brings us. And we have to be here to report on them while others have to be here to wait on them.
A little while ago, we abandoned the chamber for a refreshing stroll down the hall to the legislative library, one of the most striking rooms in the building. All along the south wall of the room are tall, tall built-in bookshelves. The west shelves hold bound volumes of House and Senate journals. Believe it or not, reading them can be more interesting sometimes than listening to floor debate.
I climbed to the top of the ladder and reached a little higher to pluck the oldest bound volumes off the top shelf. One was the journal of the Senate for the Ninth General Assembly. The session began November 21, 1836 and ended on February 16, 1837. Lawmakers met on Saturday, December 24, took off Sunday, which was Christmas Day, then resumed on December 26. The next book was for the Tenth General Assembly, which began November 19, 1838 and stopped on February 13, 1839. Those lawmakers took a Christmas break, from December 22-25, and resumed the session on the 26th. In those days, the break probably meant that legislators stayed in Jefferson City, at least those who lived any distance away.
We came across this page from the House Journal of the 1854 session. That’s right. The legislative session BEGAN on Christmas day, 1854. Christmas didn’t mean as much then. It was more than twenty years before the first commercial Christmas card was produced in this country and almost thirty years before cartoonist Thomas Nast created the drawing of Santa Clause. It had only been seven years since a German immigrant in Ohio had decorated a tree with candy kanes, considered the first time in the United States that that kind of decoration was applied to a tree. There was no daylight savings time, not until March 31, 1918.
All of this was back in the days when Missouri was mostly rural. The sessions were timed to begin after the fall harvest season and end before spring planting season. Those days are long gone but the idea does have an appeal.
Look at it this way: Within two or three days after the elections every two years, House and Senate members come to the capitol for caucuses to elect officers for the coming session and divvy up the offices among new members that the remaining members don’t want anymore. Then they all go home until January. But if they’re going to come to Jefferson City in early November, why not just start the session then, work a half-week for Thanksgiving week, take a short break for Christmas and New Years, and then go until daylight savings time kicks in. Do the same thing in non-election years.
Meet during the “down” dark months. Come daylight savings time, there’s gardening and lawn care to be done. There’s time to play an afternoon round of golf. Life becomes good again. Long evenings are times to unwind, not times to be piling tensions upon tensions inside the capitol.
What better time is there to pass laws than the dark, cold days of winter, when the trees are barren, the grass is dead, and nature is sometimes hostile?
The old timers had it right. When you can’t do anything else, make laws.
Maybe more of our lawmakers should go climbing the ladder in the legislative library. They, too, might discover some ancient wisdom on the top shelf.