State Legislature pages to keep on, officials say

Published 11:43 am Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Mississippi Legislature’s page programs for the House of Representatives and Senate have no plans to end, legislative officials said on the heels of an announcement this week that the U.S. House of Representatives’ nearly 200-year-old youth program will phase out at the end of the month.

“We definitely don’t have any plans to discontinue it,” Clerk of the House Don Richardson said. “If I didn’t have the pages, I would need to hire more staff.”

Secretary of the Senate Tressa Guynes said the Senate’s program is also safe. “It’s a great, educational program.”

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The U.S. House announced Tuesday plans to end its page program because of its annual high cost of $5 million and digital technology limiting the use of actual messengers.

The U.S. Senate’s program will continue.

Pages are high school students who are appointed to work for one week with elected officials during the legislative season in the spring.

They run errands and deliver messages for lawmakers within the Capitol complex.

In Mississippi, pages are appointed by lawmakers and paid $150 for the week. Specific requirements for pages depend on individual lawmakers.

Each of the Mississippi House’s 122 members are allowed two pages ages 13 to 18, Richardson said. In the Senate, each of its 52 members are allowed three pages ages 14 to 18, Guynes said.

Guynes said the Senate’s program costs about $30,000 annually, which is appropriated from the Senate contingency fund.

The House’s program costs about the same and funds are appropriated through the general fund for staff, Richardson said.

State Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, who has served in the House for 25 years, said he supports the program.

“It’s a unique, educational opportunity,” he said. “It’s a valuable system that gives the youths of the community a look into the democratic process. The Internet is a valuable tool, but there are some things you can’t replace.”

Former page Sophia Vollor, 20, said her time working for state Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, in the 2008 legislative season opened her eyes to the law-making process.

“I got a hands-on experience,” said Sophia, who once considered law school and is now a civil engineering junior at Auburn University. “One time we were in the House, and they had some very lively discussions. There was a lot of screaming going on. It was intense.”

Sophia is the daughter of Frank and Theresa Vollor of Vicksburg.