By Kae Warnock and Brenda Erickson
Legislative committee rooms are as varied as our state legislatures. Like legislatures, they come in all different shapes and sizes.
Let’s take a closer look at the layout of these important legislative spaces.
Committee rooms may reflect the historic nature of their capitol building. For example, the Michigan Senate Appropriations Committee room shown at left formerly was the Old Supreme Court Chamber.
Some reflect their brand new surroundings—illustrated by this example (right) from the new Minnesota Senate Building.
In early 2017, NCSL’s Brenda Erickson and Kae Warnock conducted a survey about legislative committee room layouts. Here are some of interesting facts they found.
Committee rooms have common features.
You can’t hold a committee meeting without committee members. So all committee rooms have designated space for committee members. You will see this illustrated in many of the photos below. Often, the committee members sit at a table or a dais. Daises are often horseshoe shaped.
Committees serve as the major access point for direct involvement by citizens and interest groups, providing a formal opportunity for input into the legislative process. It is only during committee hearings that non-legislators have an opportunity to speak about proposed legislation. As a result, committee rooms typically have a designated space from which someone may present or testify. In the 2017 survey, we found that witnesses typically face the committee. They may stand at a podium or sit at a table.
Another common feature is room for the public. It is a commonly held view that “the legislature’s business is the people’s business.” Open meetings are essential if citizens and interest group representatives are to participate in legislative deliberations. Standing committee meetings in almost all legislatures are open to the public.
Many committee rooms typically have moveable seating. For example, committee rooms in Virginia’s temporary legislative office building have unaffixed chairs, providing the ability to adjust audience seating (pictured at left).
In Alaska, most committee rooms have individual audience chairs, which are movable. Long wooden benches provide seating in the Senate Finance Committee room (pictured at right).
Sometimes committee rooms have unique features.
A raised dais allows the committee members to easily see and hear testimony. One Arkansas House committee room has two semi-circular rows at which committee members sit. The chairperson and staff sit on an elevated section of the back row.
Shown at left is a Texas Senate committee room with a raised dais.
Legislative committee layouts can be made flexible by using moveable walls. In Alaska, two Senate committee rooms have a movable wall. In the Arizona Senate, at least one committee room has folding walls that can be collapsed to accommodate larger audiences. Four Massachusetts House committee rooms can be expanded by removing the divider separating the rooms, thereby, making two rooms into one, or if both dividers are removed, four rooms can become two large rooms.
For the first month of Montana’s legislative session, Senate Room 317 is divided into three subcommittee rooms in the morning and converted back to a single room in the afternoon.
If you are interested in hearing more about where legislative committees meet, contact Kae and Brenda.
Kae Warnock is a policy specialist in NCSL's Legislative Staff Services program.
Brenda Erickson is a program principal in NCSL's Legislative Staff Services program..