On March 18, the Kansas House of Representatives returned to the House Chamber in regular order. No longer socially distanced by using every other desk. And you have never seen 125 more happy people in your life.
The new legislators explored their new desks. They have been sitting on chairs or benches in the galleries trying to balance computer and paperwork on their laps. Returning legislators had been given priority seating inside the Chamber, although not necessarily at their usual desk because of social distancing protocols.
Now each newbie has his or her own desk with pens, pencils, tissues, bottled water and other essentials that will be needed as we spend long days in the chamber putting the final touches on this year’s new laws. For the first time they can use the buttons on their desk for voting.
Returning legislators cleaned out old desks, chatted with neighbors, gave elbow bumps and generally enjoyed the feeling of being back at work with colleagues they know well. As Rep. Brett Parker of Overland Park, Rep. Luis Ruiz of Kansas City and I surveyed the jubilation, we remarked on how much the scene reminded us of the first day of school.
This is possible because legislators got vaccinated after being declared essential workers forced to work in a congregate setting. (Actually, many legislators qualified for vaccination based on age alone.) We received Moderna shots starting the first week in February and the second shot in early March. March 18 marked our “Immunity Day.” It was reasoned that — at least in this building— we had reached herd immunity and could ease up on some Covid guidelines.
Not that we threw our masks away. Most legislators still wore masks, removing them at the lectern and microphones. We have learned that few of us can wear a mask and still be understood. Plexiglas around the lectern helps us feel confident we are not endangering anyone.
The committees have mostly completed their work. So, from here most of the action will take place in the Chamber. With all legislators at their desks ready for work.
The Active Age invited state Rep. Elizabeth Bishop, who the Kansas Legislature’s most senior member, to write a column about her experiences in Topeka. This is her third column.