Pages sitting at the back of the House chamber during the floor session on Feb. 9. Aaleah McConnell/Georgia Recorder
The Georgia House’s page program has long provided students as young as 12 the opportunity to interact with their state representatives and to see the legislative process firsthand.
That Gold Dome tradition came to an abrupt halt the second week of March 2020. The program was shut down when the Legislature abruptly adjourned at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pages were sent home as one of the many precautions taken at the Capitol to keep state lawmakers and the public protected from the coronavirus.
The Capitol was operating at full force as it did pre-pandemic. That is, except for the presence of the ambitious and politically curious students roaming the halls of the historic building, relaying messages to their elected officials.
The page’s return is drawing smiles from veteran lawmakers, as well as newer representatives who waited anxiously to experience working with a page for the first time.
And though the Senate’s page program is quite identical to the way it was prior to March 2020, this year’s House pages will get a little more of a Georgia political history lesson than classes that went before them.
“March of 2020 would have been our last pages. And then we’ve had this two-year sabbatical from the page program. And so it was a natural fit to make some changes in the program,” said long-time educator Dayle Burns, who is overseeing the program on the House side. She is the wife of House Speaker Jon Burns.
“Our focus was how can we make this program more educational for students? How can we make it more interactive for them and, and have them more engaged in the program, while at the same time carrying on the traditions of the program,” Dayle Burns said.
In the past, pages sat on benches outside the House chamber, before taking turns in ant-like order acting as liaisons between members of the Legislature, lobbyists, advocates and the public. Now, if someone wishes to have a message sent to a representative they should go through that representative’s administrative assistant.
And though they’ll still be expected to deliver a note occasionally to a lawmaker seated in the chamber over the course of their duties, the new page program is meant to be more educational than in previous years. But what exactly makes the program more educational?
The biggest contrast is in the number of pages accepted in the program. Paring down the number of participants from 10 pages per legislator to just five over the 40-day course of the assembly is intended to set a more manageable limit of about 20 Pages daily.
Another significant change is that the House pages will be allowed on the floor for the full duration of the session. Unlike pages in past legislative sessions, these students stay in the chamber seeing everything from the morning devotion to the afternoon orders.
Their day starts in orientation, learning how to locate their representatives. Afterward they meet in a conference room to view a brief presentation detailing the history of the program, along with the rules and expectations for their day at the Capitol.
Once on the floor, their first task is to deliver a yellow slip to their representative – at which point they have the opportunity to ask questions and get a picture with the lawmaker. The pages also are provided lunch and receive a tour of the Capitol. Before the pages return home, they are awarded a certificate and take a picture with the House Speaker.
“I think the representatives love it, because that’s somebody from home,” Dayle Burns said. “And there’s usually some kind of connection. They know something about each other, even if they don’t actually know each other. And that doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran legislator or a brand new legislator, that’s just a great connection.”
Freshman Rep. Karen Lupton, a Chamblee Democrat, says she is excited that the pages are returning and explains why she believes the program is critical to the future of the United States democracy.
“I love it when people can come in, it is their spot, it is the people’s house. So those kids, if they’ve been here already, no matter where they go in life, they might be a little bit more apt to run for city council or to move in some type of government space.”
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