Monday, January 30, 2012

Leave Your Gun and Your Rude Behavior Outside

Decorum n. 1. Propriety and good taste in behavior, dress, etc. 2. An act or requirement of polite behavior (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th ed.)

The rough and tumble world of advocacy elsewhere burst onto the Wyoming legislative scene last winter. In preparing for the 2012 session, lawmakers are instituting rules they hope will preserve our friendly open citizen Legislature but regulate some of the most objectionable behavior.

Legislator and public behavior could get rowdy in territorial and early statehood days, but in recent decades a generally accepted courtesy and deference has been the norm. Legislators in Wyoming are unused to intimidation outside the caucus meetings,and the deliberative and mannered world of the Wyoming State House was disrupted in 2011. Some legislators, caught off guard, succumbed to the aggressive methods.  

Legislators have their own rules for decorum. Now for the 2012 session, we have rules to guide decorous behavior by the public in the galleries, committee rooms and lobbies of the State Capitol. Some rules are common sense and courtesy and only the most obnoxious behavior will be affected. Others could impinge on normal, reasonable behavior, so we rely on the good judgment of the enforcers.

For Instance:

One of the most objectionable behaviors of 2011was the use of still and video cameras -- flourished in committee meetings, positioned to obstruct traffic and extended over the gallery glass to record documents on legislators’ desks. No one can hold recording equipment (or anything else) over the glass barrier in the gallery, and otherwise recording is allowed if it is not obstructive or disruptive. People who want to record committee meetings should check first with the chairman.

People in the galleries must be quiet and still and refrain from trying to communicate “visually or audibly” with anyone on the Senate or House floor. This is in response to the dramatic gesticulating in the galleries last session, which was distracting to legislators and also to the clerks as they counted heads for the “division” votes.

In the lobbies, demonstrations, signs, banners, placards and other display materials are prohibited. “Individuals in the lobby may not react to debate or voting on the floor in any way to signal approval or disapproval of floor action.” Now, that’s a tough one. A raised eyebrow, smile or discreet fist bump are okay, I’m sure. But when will the door man (they are always men) intervene?

I hope legislators remember they always can exert their own will on people who get too pushy. They can declare their position and then stand by it at election time. We cannot insulate them from public importuning or the implied threat of “we’re watching you, so be careful.” Committee chairmen have always been able to enforce their own rules to preserve decorum.

On the other hand, it’s kind of nice to say Wyoming folks know rude behavior when they see it and we don’t have to put up with it. The Legislative Service Office reviewed rules of other legislative bodies, and the Wyoming rules of decorum represent a middle ground, according to Sen. Tony Ross.

I guess these rules will give the House and Senate staff the authority to squelch the most disruptive behavior. We rely on the judgment of staff to know when behavior crosses that line from proper comment to prohibited disruption and contumely.