A new challenge

I’ve got a new, temporary assignment for the newspaper and it’s a bit of a doozy.

I’m filling in on the State House/General Assembly beat, as our state government reporter has departed for a job as an editor at his alma mater’s alumni association.

I started a few days ago, overlapping with the departing reporter before he left. But now I’m on my own through the last day of the General Assembly session, also known as Sine Die, on April 11.

Desk in the State House basement press room, photo by multimedia journalist and environment reporter Pamela Wood.
My temporary desk in the press room in the basement of the State House.

I’ve had some experience with state lawmakers in Annapolis over the years. Every year I follow a few key environmental bills, covering hearings, sitting through floor debates and writing about what happens. I’ve also sometimes lent a hand during the busy last few days of the session.

But now I’m doing the whole kit and kaboodle solo, which is stressful, but also exciting.

I’m learning new things, such as how the budget process really works. Thick budget books, weird meetings and something called the BRFA. Pronounced “Burr-Fa,” it’s officially the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act. FUN.

In a way, I kind of feel like I’m embedded in some other kind of world. A world where the only way to find out about an important budget meeting is to be on the House of Delegates floor when it’s announced. A world where nothing starts on time and deadlines can be ignored if something is reeaally important. A world where any bill can be quickly killed by either, A.) claiming it will lead to job losses or B.) claiming it will cost consumers — even if neither is true.

I hope my outsider’s perspective on this very insider-y world will help during my stint as the state government. I think the way my readers think, so hopefully I can translate everything into English and explain how bills and budgets will affect us when it’s all said and done.

In my few days on the beat, I’ve determined the best part of the gig is my fellow journalists in the press corps.

I knew some reporters before from working the same stories. Others I knew a bit through Twitter and Facebook. They’ve all welcomed me into their fold.

The reporters are all super nice and helpful, not just to me as a newbie, but to others. You’d think it would be cut-throat, but it’s not. I’m sure there’s jockeying to get scoops, but when you’re in the trenches together, I guess there’s a certain camradarie that develops. We’re all typing away at our stories in the State House basement, we’re all shifting uncomfortably on the hard chairs in the House (Senate chairs have more padding), we’re all trying to make heads or tails out of the budget. Might as well be nice to one another.

Here’s a link you may enjoy:

The Mother of All Backrooms: Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com describes how budget negotiations take place in Annapolis. I was sitting next to Len during this meeting.

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