Went to visit Anne Rottman’s legislative library at the Capitol last week, trying to dot some eyes and cross some tees in the capitol book manuscript and started prowling through legislative journals to track down some minor details. Most of that stuff is pretty dry but sometimes you trip over something that wakes you up. We offer you two discoveries today.
Legislators, lobbyists, reporters—heck, anybody involved in a legislative session–starts to feel at this point that there has to be some way out of this misery. Three weeks can’t go by fast enough.
We were reading the journals of the 1945 legislative session. And we realized there’s never been a session like it. And nobody in the Capitol today would ever wish it on anybody. Almost nobody knows about it.
The session began January 3, 1945. The final floor action took place on the TWO-HUNDRED-TWENTY-SECOND DAY, July 8, nineteen-forty-SIX! There was no air conditioning. They were paid $125 a month plus ten cents a mile to go to and from their homes—one time per session. In 1945, the average Missourian would earn about $200 a month. A new house averaged $4,600 and gas was fifteen cents a gallon. The amount they were paid in 1945 is the equivalent of about $1100 a month today, $13,260 a year, give or take, a little more than one-third as much as we pay our lawmakers now.
For whatever value it might have, we should note the legislature did not meet every year back then. It was every other year until voters approved annual sessions in 1970. Except for 1945-46. But, then¸ they had to come back only six months after adjournment for the regular 1947 session. And it lasted another 150 legislative days.
Why did they meet so long? Because voters in 1944 adopted a new state constitution (the same one today’s lawmakers love to fiddle with) and these folks had to pass hundreds of laws to make state statutes comply with the new constitution. Members of the House introduced 1,039 bills and the Senate introduced 498. That was a lot then, not so much now.
Here’s another incredible thing about that session. The House and Senate journals, plus the indexes and the appendices which were mostly reports of various boards, commissions, institutions, and agencies totaled—get this now:
So, hang in there folks. It will only SEEM like this session has lasted 222 days three weeks from now. Imagine if you were serving in 1945, though. Instead of adjourning in mid-May, you’d still have another thirteen months ahead of you. And you’d be paid about one-third what you’re getting now. With no per diem. And no mileage for trips to and from home except for once in that whole session.
But at least, today, you have air conditioning.
Another thing we found was an essay published in the 1951 House Journal. It apparently was the winning essay in a contest about “What the Bill of Rights Means to Me.” It was written by Miss Jerry Lynn Rainwater, a student at Springfield’s Greenwood High School. It was so refreshing to read, given what’s been going on lately, that we’re going to pass it along.
Right now, I am in a class room, in an average school, located in an average American city. On the wall hangs an American Flag surrounded by a great many flags of other nations. The class is studying the problems that face America today, both foreign and within her jurisdiction. Our teacher is not a government official. She has never pledged loyalty to any political party. She enjoys her personal opinions and beliefs but presents the facts to us in an unbiased manner, leaving us free to form our own opinions. Our text is published by an independent concern without government censorship; our reference materials cover all types of newspapers, magazines and other sources of information. To me this is what the Bill of Rights offers.
Yesterday in class we viewed a historical movie, revealing uncensored facts produced by an independent company. Today we listened to a news commentator over the radio. He disagreed with our government’s policies, but he exercised his right to broadcast his views.
By my own choice, I am attending this school and this class. Neither was compulsory. Seated next to me is a Jew. The chair next to him is vacant. The usual occupant is absent because, according to his Catholic religion, it is a holy day. No questions were asked, no demands were made. I visited his church once, though I am a protestant. No one tried to prohibit my actions. That is what the Bill of Rights means to me.
My Father is attending a political meeting of a party that is not in power. Views and ideas will be discussed openly and freely. It is not a secret meeting; the door is closed to no one, regardless of his or her belief. Someday I shall attend similar meetings, for my right to do this is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
During my life as an American citizen, I shall harbor no doubt that my home is free from intrusion by government officials, or their agents; they, as all others must respect my rights. My property can not be confiscated by the government. Nor shall any member of my family be taken to prison without reason and proper proceedings. Our life is ours to live, free and unmolested. Our liberty cannot be taken from us unless we abuse it. Even then we have the guarantee, through the Bill of Rights, to a fair trial by an unbiased group of our equals.
As I got about my affairs, I do not live in fear for my life or liberty; for in America everyone is free to live according to the dictates of his own conscience. This is what the Bill of Rights offers and guarantees to me and to every American, regardless of race, color, or creed. It is a heritage worth protecting—even unto death.
We don’t know what has happened to Jerry Lynn Rainwater of Greenwood High School, 1951. We hope she’s hale and hearty in her 80s with many wonderful grandchildren. She wrote that essay while the entire world was at war. And she wrote it with a clarity and a simplicity that is too easily lost in bluster, blather, and cynicism today. In the darkness of the world’s worst war, Jerry Lynn Rainwater found light.
She reminds us that the world really isn’t as complicated as all of those folks in the Capitol who are sweating and frothing and grunting are trying to make it.
We hope they put her essay on their bulletin boards. Reading it from time to time will be good for them. It certainly was for us.