By Jenna Neeley
Legislators, interns, reporters, lobbyists and families all bustled around crowded corridors Monday, Jan. 27 as they gathered under the Capitol’s dome at the start of the 2014 legislative session. Opening day on Utah’s Capitol Hill is a celebration, with legislators’ families, coats of many colors, foreign exchange students and even a little bit of taffy.
Lawmaker’s sons and daughters draped off their parents’ hands as they were swept into the House and the Senate for the ceremonial opening of both the House and Senate. Bright smiles of children of many ages illuminated the porcelain-like hallways.
“My daddy is a senator. This is what he does all day long and sometimes I get to come see him,” Sarah, 9, said while smiling. “That is my favorite part of his job.”
The event also drew students from around Utah. Ogden Prep School’s 5th grade class, a West Valley charter school’s student government, Karl G. Maeser Preparatory Academy’s sophomore class from Lindon and even foreign exchange students from Guangzhou, China were among those who gathered to sit-in in the public galleries of opening session hoping to gain an appreciation for the Utah State Legislature.
Mixed between playful children, the stairs were glittered with purple sashes, as the session’s first lobbyist group, an Alzheimer’s support association, gathered outside the doors to the House of Representatives hoping to have a representative to emerge and greet them.
“We are basically coming to show our support for the care, support, and research efforts. We mainly want to get in to speak with our representatives,” Miss Murray McCall Gray said.
Outside the Capitol doors, Salt Lake firefighter Jack Ludlow, started his day by picking up 15 cases of salt-water taffy. Each year the Professional Fire Fighters of Utah sponsor dozens of 8-inch tall red ceramic fire hydrants filled with salt-water taffy to be placed around the grounds in all three legislative buildings.
“It allows us to interface with the Legislators. . .They see us giving out salt water taffy and they like us,” Ludlow said.
Going through nearly 800 pounds of taffy a session, this 30-year-old tradition is enjoyed not only by the firefighters and the legislators, but also the men who control access to the floors of the House and Senate chambers.
These security men, also known as the “grey coats” in the Senate, and the “green coats” in the House, spend the morning and afternoon securing the legislative parameters. This year, the coats of the Senate’s sentinels changed color to grey.
“Lobbyists and journalists can send blue notes to legislators inside the session,” Tom Sheppard, of Senate security, said, “and we make sure to get them to the senators without breaching security or being bothersome.”
“We wear vibrant green and grey coats because that’s what they want us to do. After five or six years, the coats get worn out and they choose a new color,” Sheppard said.