Jeffrey Witter has been following progress on the Minnesota Senate's healthcare budget all year.
Witter, 22, and a recent graduate from Macalester College, has observed and assisted legislators working on a budget in two separate health and human services committees. And on Wednesday, Witter was there when the health omnibus budget bill reached the Senate Finance Committee.
The finance committee is a budget bill's last stop before a full floor vote.
"I've been familiar with the intricacies of the discussion [about the budget]," says Witter, who majored in political science. "It's been kind of interesting to see it all tied together."
What's not interesting is sitting in an empty room with nothing to do. This was the situation Witter found himself in midday Wednesday, as senators took one of multiple recesses to work out further details of the bill. The hearing had been delayed to begin with, from a scheduled 10:00 a.m. start to 11:30, and was interrupted more than once throughout the day.
Witter gets it.
"It's at the discretion, the call of the [committee] chair," he says. "A lot of times there's a technical amendment they need to get done. A lot of this language, in such a big bill, is extremely technical. There's a lot of moving parts, and some times they just need to step away for a little while and make sure they've got everything right."
On one such occasion on Wednesday, Witter was nearly alone, with only a few other non-partisan staffers for company. A thought occurred to him. He'd noticed the hearing was being televised, and figured the only people watching would be his friends who work for the Legislature.
So Witter did something that's almost never seen on one of the local government channels: He walked right up and looked directly into the camera.
"Literally a minute afterwards, I started getting texts from my friends," Witter says. "And then obviously, that tweet racked up a number of views."
Witter refers here to a tweet from Matt Privratsky, a communications staffer for Fresh Energy (and former Minnesota House employee), who happened to notice this curious moment and document it for public viewing.
The Senate has (cruelly) edited the tape of yesterday's hearing to exclude Witter's moment with the camera, meaning Privratsky's tweet is the only place this moment is preserved.
"I was kind of surprised people found it that funny, to be honest," says Witter, chuckling.
As Witter, a native of California, observes, recesses are probably generally a good thing. Better bill authors catch something and fix it ahead of time, rather then leave it messed up and inscribe it in law.
Makes sense. And if the people waiting around did more stuff like this to pass the time, the recess would quickly become the only universally popular thing that happens at the Capitol.
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