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Spring Vacation in Springfield

3/6/2013
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It’s March in Illinois, and you know what that means….unexpected snow? Days getting longer? The Chicago Blackhawks breaking the record for the best opening season in NHL history? All that is true.  But…that’s not all.  Springtime in Springfield means the Legislative Session.  For those who have never observed a legislative session, it’s truly something to behold.  Better than any civics lesson you could learn in any classroom, a trip to the Illinois State House in the spring time will teach you everything you could ever want to know about how state government functions.

When I first visited Springfield I was in 5th grade and traveling as part of a class trip.  We went in the fall and had the opportunity to see Lincoln’s New Salem, Lincoln’s Tomb, the Old State Capitol, and the current State Capitol.  We went on some tours.  I think we even got to rub the nose of the Lincoln statue.  It would be another 14 years before I visited the state’s capital again – this time as an adult.  This time…in the spring.

Springfield is an entirely different city during the spring legislative session.  It’s not just that lawmakers come from all over the state to debate the issues of the day.  They bring with them thousands of others – lobbyists, journalists, demonstrators, citizen activists, dignitaries, and out-of-town staffers.  They bring energy.  Sometimes Springfield can seem like a sleepy town, but during the legislative session, it comes alive.

So, if you are looking for a fun family vacation or just a little change of pace, consider a day trip to Springfield during the spring session.  Only an hour and a half’s drive from the lodge, the city offers the unique opportunity to not just explore our history but also witness the shaping of the future.  Visit ilga.gov to see when the legislature is in session.  To take a tour of the building, head to the information desk on the first floor.  You will have to go through some security so avoid carrying too much metal with you.  The tour is free and your guide will take you through the capitol building – pointing out the Senate and House chambers, the Governor’s Office, some cool statues and much more.  To see your lawmakers in action, visit the House or Senate galleries. More information on tours is available here. If you call your legislator’s office ahead of time, they may even visit with you or ask the body to welcome you to Springfield!  While both chambers are beautiful, there is something especially grand about the view from the House gallery.  It’s quite a bit bigger.  It also has a reputation for being just a little bit rowdier.  So, you are more likely to see some lively action on the floor!  If you visit either chamber, be sure to take a moment and really look around.  Engage in the moment.  Understand how meaningful and powerful it is that anyone of us can walk in off the street, visit the state’s capitol building, and witness history in the making.

Illinois

If there is a particular issue that interests you and your family, you may want to consider visiting a committee hearing.  Every bill that goes to the floor must first go through a committee.  This is done so that each bill gets the attention it deserves and interested parties are allowed to voice their concerns or support.   A full list of House and Senate committees is available on ilga.gov. Committees are open to the public and typically provide a more in depth look at a bill than a floor vote. I have been to many committee meetings since moving to Springfield, but one will always stick with me.  There was a bill before the House Education Committee that looked at whether or not children should be allowed to ride ATVs.  Before the committee even started, the room was flooded with parents and children who were there to observe the discussion and make their voices heard on the issue.  As I left the room I could see the looks of excitement on the faces of the kids who had participated.  They had taken part in representative democracy.  They had stood up for their own interests and influenced the process.  It was truly something to see.

After a full morning of participating in democracy, you may want to get some lunch downtown.  The downtown area is packed with restaurants ready to cater to tourists.  Like the rest of the town, these restaurants have a special sort of energy during session.  You’ll see lobbyists, journalists, and demonstrators buzzing around the area. 

I think it’s important for people to understand our government.  Now that I live in Springfield, it always brings a smile to my face to see families enjoying the State Capitol and surrounding areas.  The Capitol Building belongs to all of us – from its ornate chandeliers to its fancy smancy art work – it belongs to the people and…it’s a fun place to visit.

 Nicole Palmisano

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