Rules and customs for navigating within the Legislative Office Building and the State Capitol
Food, drinks: First things first. The LOB cafeteria is on the first floor - enter down a little hall to the right of the elevators. The cafeteria offers coffee, snacks, sandwiches, pasta, a grill, salad bar, etc. The cafeteria opens at 7:00 am and closes at 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm during session. There is a Newsstand with snacks, aspirin, newspapers, etc. in the first floor of the LOB. There are snack and drink machines in the hall behind the stairs on the first floor of the LOB and in the basement of the Capitol. During session, there are tables outside the Hall of the House on the eastern side of the second floor of the Capitol. At lunchtime, there are carts offering food on Elm Street near the park.
ATM machine: There is an ATM machine on the first floor of the LOB, on the right as you are walking from the LOB toward the Capitol through the underground concourse.
Quiet places to sit: This will become critical - there is a lot of waiting around - bring something to read. You can sit in the cafeteria (it is best if you buy something), in the "break out area" on the western end of second floor of the LOB by the big windows, on the soft chairs on the eastern end of the second floor of the LOB by the bigger windows and the exit to the Capitol, on benches in the center of the LOB lobby, in empty hearing rooms, on benches throughout the Capitol and usually in the Old Judiciary Room (gorgeous room, on the eastern end of the third floor of the Capitol) and in other rooms throughout the complex.
What to wear: Most important are non-slippery, comfortable shoes. You will do a lot of walking and the stairs in the Capitol are very smooth. Many people have been hurt falling on those stairs. As for dress - there is a wide range, you certainly don't have to wear a suit (although you wouldn't be out of place) but don't wear jeans if possible. It is best to wear comfortable clothing.
Restrooms: In the LOB, there are restrooms to the left of the elevators on the first floor, down the hall to the right of the elevators on the second floor, and several others in somewhat hidden places. Ask someone who works there. In the Capitol, there are restrooms on the North side of the building on the first, second and third floors.
Entry and Security: Since September 11th, the LOB and Capitol are on alert. Don't joke around about security issues. If you aren't sure if you're allowed to do something, ask the Capitol Police . You can enter the LOB through the third floor skywalk from the garage, the east end of the second floor door, or the first floor through the revolving doors on the western end. You can enter the Capitol from the underground concourse from the LOB or the southwestern or east side doors on the first floor.
Between the LOB and Capitol: You can travel between the LOB and the Capitol by the underground concourse (kids love the people mover). Enter the concourse from the eastern end of the first floor of the LOB (past the store and the ATM machine) or from the Capitol escalators on the southern side of the first floor. You can also walk between the LOB and Capitol across the bridge over the highway from the second floor of the LOB to the first floor of the Capitol.
Information desk: There is an information desk, manned by the League of Women Voters, by the revolving doors at the western end of the LOB first floor. That desk is also where you can find out about tours of the Capitol - a great idea, if this is your first time. For more information on tours, go to http://www.cga.state.ct.us/capitoltours/.
Velvet ropes and galleries: To watch the House or Senate in session, you can go to their respective galleries. The House Gallery is on the south side of the fourth floor of the Capitol. The Senate has two galleries (depending on which side of the Senate circle you want to watch) - both are on the north side of the fifth floor. If you want to talk to a legislator, you should wait outside the chambers for them to walk by. There are velvet-roped areas that registered lobbyists must stay behind. As a member of the public, a legislator may invite you to accompany them to seats within the chamber - in the Senate, in chairs behind theirs - in the House, on benches in the "well of the House". It's kind of cool for the first ten minutes or so. You can send a note to a House member through the staff at the desk by the phone booths to the right of the chamber. Use this resource sparingly.
To access legislative language on-site: There are three sources - sympathetic staffers or lobbyists, in the basement of the Capitol there are public computers available to access the General Assembly web site and the Bill Room, in the first floor western end of the LOB, just past the ATM machine on the left. Staff in the Bill Room can get you a copy of any filed legislation.
How to know what's going on: So you get to the LOB, but how do you find out what is happening that day and where? There are TV sets throughout both buildings with the day's schedule scrolling, including times and locations. During session, you should also go to the Bill Room (the first floor western end of the LOB, just past the ATM machine on the left) for a copy of the Bulletin. The Legislative Bulletin (Click on Bulletin at the bottom of the page, below the calendar) has the schedules for today and into the future, agendas for public hearings and committee meetings, tells when they will go into session, any other events (press conferences, group meetings, etc.) and the rules of the place.
Lobbyists : Registered lobbyists have extra rules for working within the LOB and Capitol. They must wear badges that identify them and cannot go beyond the velvet ropes to talk with legislators (see above). However, they have a vast store of knowledge in how the building and the system works - both the process of passing (or killing) legislation, and the logistics of the setting. Connecting with one for advice can be invaluable.
Cell phones: Cell phones are a critical piece of staying in touch while working in the LOB and Capitol. However, you cannot use them in hearing rooms or galleries. Either turn them off or set them to silent mode. Take any conversations - phone or in person -- outside the room.
How to connect with a legislator: First, find their aide and let them know that you'd like to speak with the legislator. You can find the aides by going to the Caucus offices. For Senate Democrats and Republicans, the offices are in the northwest and southwest corners, respectively, of the third floor of the LOB. For House Republicans and Democrats, the offices are in the southwest and northwest corners of the fourth floor, respectively. Leave a note if you miss someone, with your contact information and a fact sheet or letter if you have one.
Legislative library: A phenomenal resource to the right of the stairs on the fifth floor of the LOB. This is the resource for legislative staff - this is where they go first for information and research. The library has many journals and the librarians are among the most helpful people I've ever met inside or outside the legislature. Unfortunately, there is no way for the public to make copies of any materials. After the session, the library has summaries of legislation that passed each year. The library is also one of my favorite quiet places to sit.
Coming to a public hearing or a committee or task force or council meeting:
For a public hearing, come early to sign up and bring copies of your written testimony (see Tips on Testifying). Usually the sign up for speakers is outside the room where the hearing will be held, you can ask in the Committee room or, if it's too early, ask people in line. Most are helpful - everyone is in the same boat. You need to sign up on the public list (not the state officials list, which is shorter and they go first - don't start me).
In the hearing room, you must turn off your cell phone or turn it to silent mode. You cannot bring food or drink into the hearing rooms. Take any loud or long conversations into the hall. You cannot speak up at a hearing or committee meeting (this should be obvious when you get there). Only the legislators and members of committees, councils or task forces can ask questions.
If you have been invited to serve on a commission, council or task force, talk to the staff person (usually sitting at a desk near the front of the room) to ask where you should sit, get your name card, etc. You get to sit in the cushy chairs and ask questions of speakers and other members. It is best to sit and watch for a while in your first meeting, to see how the group works. When you do speak up, you must push the button below the speaker in front of you to be heard by other members, staff (for the minutes) and for the TV cameras (see CTN and CT Government on TV.)
I'm sure I've forgotten lots of things. The best advice is to ask questions, wait and see what everyone else does, and follow a more experienced advocate or lobbyist. Good luck.
In Separated by Velvet Ropes published 5/25/03 in the Hartford Courant's Northeast magazine, Kevin Rennie describes the culture and frenzy at the end of the legislative session. A former Senator, his description is vivid and accurate.
Official CT Legislative Guide http://www.cga.state.ct.us/olm/guide/subject.htm
This is Your General Assembly http://www.cga.state.ct.us/olm/ThisIs/ThisIs1.html