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Students Tour State Capitol and Supreme Court

Legislative aides, court justice discuss inner workings of Connecticut’s Senate, House and top court

Students got a glimpse of state lawmakers’ workdays during a recent field trip to the State Capitol.

In November, Gary L. Rose, professor and chair of the Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies, greeted students as they boarded a coach bus. Rose offered the trip to students taking his state and local government course, as well as students in the Pre-Law Club.

“It’s a great opportunity for the students,” Rose said. “This is a good showing of kids; I’m real happy with that.”

Thirty students took the trip to Hartford, where they first visited the Legislative Office Building. Local State Sen. Tony Hwang’s legislative aide, Jessica Davenport ’14, welcomed the group and showed them around. the impressive building where committee hearings and meetings take place. Davenport talked about the various hearings and how they involve Republicans and Democrats working side-by-side. Students sat at the same desks state representatives and senators do when the General Assembly is in session.

“This is my first time here,” said Corinne Cavanaugh ’17, who is from New Jersey. “I think it’s beautiful.” Cavanaugh is a political science major and wants to go to law school, but she also is interested in exploring state government. She is applying for an internship at the Capitol.

When students were done exploring the Legislative Office Building, the group made its way to the Capitol. Rose encouraged the students to take in everything around them, including pictures, statues and historical facts plastered on the walls. “This is an extraordinary building,” Rose said. “This is one of most ornate capitols in the country.”

Students walked to the second floor, entered the Senate Chamber and sat in large leather chairs arranged in a circle. They listened as Lena Holleran, a legislative aide for the 35th District in northeastern Connecticut, discussed her job, policy, the passing of bills and typical happenings at the Capitol when the General Assembly is in session.

Holleran explained that everything conducted in the Senate is very formal. Bills get introduced and then discussed in caucus rooms. When a bill is ready to be voted on, everyone in the chambers has to vote and cannot leave until they do, she said.

Students questioned Holleran about political parties and federal funding before walking through the caucus rooms and then to the Gallery of the House of Representatives.

“There’s a huge cultural difference between the two chambers,” Holleran said. “The House is loud. People are discussing bills loudly, and there’s a lot of commotion going on. They don’t have caucus rooms like the Senate, where things are quieter.”

“I thought that was interesting,” said Pat Fay ’17, a math major. “It was great learning about everything she had to say.”

Holleran said that, like the Senate, House members have to vote if they are in the chamber; there’s no getting around it.

The students’ next stop was the Connecticut Supreme Court to meet with Supreme Court Justice Peter Zarella. Inside the building, students found themselves looking up at murals on the ceiling and painted portraits of former chief justices hanging on the walls.

Zarella talked about the court and his job. He said when a case gets brought to the Supreme Court, there is no witness stand and there is no obtaining of facts. All the facts have been brought to their attention already, he said. Cases come to the Supreme Court because one side in the case believes an error was made in the previous ruling. The justices make the final call on each case after hearing from attorneys representing both sides.

After meeting with Zarella, students entered the Museum of Connecticut History in the Connecticut Supreme Court. Painted portraits of all of Connecticut’s governors lined the walls. In another room, items made in Connecticut, including many guns made by Colt Manufacturing, were on display.

“My favorite part was talking to [Zarella],” Fay said while gazing at some of the old revolvers in the museum. “This was a good trip. I liked it a lot.”