Washington House members answer to a higher authority: the piggy-bank cop

Meet Speaker Pro-Tem John Lovick, former state trooper.
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John Lovick.

Meet Speaker Pro-Tem John Lovick, former state trooper.

Speaker Pro Tem John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, is retired from a long career with the Washington State Patrol. But he's still handing out tickets – to fellow House members. Lovick has instituted a system of fines for fellow Democrats who violate House decorum, use improper English or bad syntax, or just plain screw up on the floor. The list of high crimes and misdemeanors is not quite as long as the Revised Code of Washington, but it includes walking in front of the Rostrum during floor debate, "moving" an amendment instead of "moving adoption" of an amendment and saying "what the bill (or amendment) does is." On that last one you're supposed to say: "This bill (or amendment) will ..." None of this "does is" stuff. These violations all carry a modest $2 fine. But beware the member whose cell phone goes off on the floor. That's a felony, and you get slapped with a $20 ticket! "So if someone's cell phone goes off on the House floor, they know they just reach for their wallet while they're reaching to turn their cell phone off," jokes Lovick, who as Speaker Pro Tem presides over the House floor on most days. Lovick actually carries a ticket book. He writes out floor violations just like he used to write speeding tickets. But recently Lovick's law and order approach came back to bite him. "I had a ticket written to me," Lovick admits. He says it's his first ticket – speeding or otherwise – in more than 30 years. Lovick explains, "I was speaking on my auto theft bill and I stood up and I said: 'What the Senate amendment does is,' which is totally improper." According to Lovick, fines are often paid during the closed-door caucus sessions off the floor. Members stand up, confess their crime, and then pay the piggy. That would be the very pink, very rotund piggy bank that resides on the leadership table in the caucus room. (A side story about the piggy bank: It recently made an appearance on the floor. The occasion was a debate about an animal-massage bill. Apparently, while one member gave an earnest speech in favor of the legislation, another member pretended to give the porcelain pig a deep-tissue massage.) Fun and games aside, Lovick says there's a serious purpose behind the ticketing system. "I believe that there's a proper decorum that we have on the floor ... and we need to respect the decorum of this institution," explains Lovick. "It keeps members on their toes, too. I mean, you know if a bill is coming up that you're supposed to speak to, you should be at your desk ready to speak to the bill instead of running around doing things that you shouldn't be doing." Another member who was recently ticketed is Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina. He wasn't ready when an amendment he was sponsoring was called. That caused a delay in floor action while he looked it up on his laptop. But Hunter's not complaining. "It's a $2 fine. It's enough to get your attention. But it's not all that onerous," says Hunter. The real embarrassment, he explains, is holding up the show. "It looks like you're not prepared, and you want to make sure that we present a good presentation on TVW." So far this session, Lovick estimates, about $250 in fines have been collected. Some people haven't paid, and Lovick says he might charge a penalty. When the session is over, the plan is to donate the money to a charity. I just recently learned about the House Democrats' fining system. But it reminds me of something that happened early in this session. Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, was holding a briefing for reporters in his office. KING-TV's Robert Mak was there, and his cell phone went off. The way I remember it, Chopp said: "That'll be twenty bucks." Mak – or somebody in the room – kind of laughed it off, but Chopp said: "No, seriously," and he didn't seem very amused. In retrospect, that sort of funny, sort of tense moment now makes sense. It seems Chopp was trying to enforce the House rules on the unruly Capitol press corps. I don't think Mak ever paid up. For Mak's sake, I hope Chopp hasn't sent the ticket to a collections agency or, worse yet, put a House warrant out for Mak's arrest.


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