“We shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us” – Winston Churchill
The Utah Legislature is off to a good start in cramped quarters outside the Capitol Building. They’re meeting in temporary chambers in the new West Annex building while the Capitol is being renovated for the next three years. Noise levels are high both inside and outside the chambers. New side doors have already been added to the lower level House Chambers to prevent noise from the lobby from entering the room when the main doors are opened. School tours, which have allowed thousands of school children to visit the legislature during the session, have been cancelled because there’s simply not room for the additional bodies.
This year floor debates in both houses can be watched through live streaming audio and video on the web. This can be found at www.le.state.ut.us . This allows citizens and lobbyists to monitor happenings on the hill without actually being present. Instead of the capitol galleries which allowed observers to view the House and Senate in action, “cry rooms” are provided which enable citizens to watch the happenings through glass windows. Additional overflow rooms throughout the building also allow observers to watch video projections of the debates.
Security without Security
A false sense of security has been provided in the new building. Legislators and staff are provided with photo ID cards which contain electronic codes to allow entry to underground parking garage, and from there passage through a series of locked doors to the House and Senate offices. The redundancy of locked doors and the clicking of releasing locks makes me feel like I’m entering Fort Knox. While the key-cards are required for entry from the garage, anyone at all can enter the building without key-cards simply by coming through the front doors. I suppose the security people have conducted research which shows bad people tend to come through underground parking areas instead of the front door.
While the economy has improved significantly when compared to the past three legislative sessions, balancing the budget with hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenues may actually be more difficult than when money was scarce. During the lean years expectations were low and demands for increased spending were tempered. With new money flowing into state coffers, hopes are high and the new money has been spent many times over. The real test for legislators will be in the waning days of the session as disappointed agencies and the spending lobby begin urging legislators to increase taxes.