The First Wednesday in January

Back to work. On the first Wednesday in January.

That's when our Commonwealth's Constitution says the legislature for the new session will be sworn in and begin work. And, Wednesday, there we were, all 160 Representatives and 40 Senators.

Ready for the next two year session. Waiting for committee assignments. Waiting to get to work sorting out some 8,000 pieces of new legislation. Waiting to get office assignments and, for new legislators, seat assignments.

Officially, the 181st General Court is in session. As of three days ago.

It all began with a caucus for both parties, where Majority (Democrats) and Minority (Republican) leaders are elected and plans staged for the election of the Speaker of the House.

At 11 a.m. the eldest member-elect calls the General Court to order. Eldest member-elect, by the way, means he, or she, is the Dean of the House, the person elected the most years ago. Not the person with the most years of service.

You'll recall that Dean Tony Scibelli of Springfield, died last fall after 50 years in the House. Our current Dean, John Businger of Brookline, has served since Tony's death, but lost his reelection bid. So a new dean, David Flynn, was named this week. He's been out of the House for several years, but decided to run again last fall and now he's Dean of the House.

After the opening prayer, which by the way happens every day we're in session, a committee of 15 is named to march out of the chamber and into the Governor's office to tell him that we're ready for work. Soon, they return with the Governor, Lt. Governor, Governor's Councilors and Constitutional officers following.

Members of the House are sworn in by the Governor and we proceed to elect the Speaker. It's the only time that a roll call is called by the Clerk, unless our voting machines are broken. And each Representative calls out the name of their choice.

It's tradition that you vote for a candidate from your own party, although even this was broken the first time Tom Finneran was elected Speaker. Republicans joined with Democrats to ensure enough votes for victory. This year, his election was assured, with or without Republican support.

After the Speaker and Minority leader address the House, the Clerk is named. And, for the first time in 43 years, we'll have a new Clerk, because Bob McQueen is retiring.

With only 160 House seats, and as many extra chairs brought in as will fit in the well for other officials, it gets a little crowded. The gallery, full of guests, is always overflowing, with each new member guaranteed two seats in the balcony. Relatives and friends of prior members have to fend for themselves.

Generally, only members are allowed on the House floor, but during the swearing in, there are some exceptions. If you can squeeze spouse, best friend, child or grandchild into a seat with you, it's probably overlooked.

And, if all else fails, there are tv monitors throughout the State House to watch the ceremonies.

And, it's not over yet. The Governor and other state officers are sworn in on Thursday before a joint session of House and Senate.

And now, the scramble, for committees, seating assignments and offices. The freshman class will elect their officers. And all 160 of us--130

Democrats, 29 Republicans and l independent--are back in session. Back to work.

It's all tradition. And, it's been going on, in the same "new" State House on Beacon Hill for more than 200 years. After all, we are the longest continuously sitting legislature in the country.

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