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Did we see the death of ‘sine die’?

POSTED: April 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.

I came along in the era when they quit teaching Latin. My Latin is limited to e pluribus unum and my favorite, sine die.

Sine die means "without a day." It is the term that courts and legislatures use to pronounce adjournment without plans to return.

When they built the Georgia State Capitol, Willoughby J. Edbrooke and Franklin P. Burnham of Chicago designed it in such a way that the House and Senate chambers are on opposite sides of the huge rotunda. When the giant doors of each chamber are opened, the speaker of the House can look right across and see the president of the Senate.

There is a great old tradition that probably dates back to the time Will and Frank's fancy capitol was built. When the legislature was ready to adjourn for the final day of the 40-day session, the doors were opened, and the House speaker would drop a handkerchief and the House and Senate would be gaveled to a close at the same time.

A few things changed over the years. In 1946, we created the office of lieutenant governor and made that person president of the Senate. We also had a little technology that gave us a direct telephone between the two presiding officers, but the hanky was kept around for good theater.

The opening of the legislature is sort of like the first day of school. Everyone takes their seat and gets quiet. Somebody's preacher comes and reads the Bible and prays, then they say the pledge to the flag.

The end of the session is usually a bit more raucous. Those doors open, the aisle clears and the presiding officers simultaneously bang their gavels signaling the end.

At the same time, all the remaining bills on lawmakers' desks go flying into the air. The presiding officers come down and, following in a tradition that goes back to the old country, they bow to the members of the legislature.

I was at the capitol on Friday night for the final hours of the session. I've seen it a bunch of times, but I was still all excited about the sine die show.

I was in the House gallery and suddenly Speaker Glenn Richardson declared the session adjourned sine die. But there were no opened doors, no drop of the hanky and no phone call to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

In fact, several reporters were anxiously watching to see what Richardson might have to say to Cagle by phone. Earlier in the night, Richardson suggested from the podium that Cagle should find a new line of work. It wasn't friendly.

A couple of minutes later, Cagle gaveled the Senate to an end without any pomp and circumstance. Bang. That's it.

Folks who've been hanging around the capitol for years couldn't remember the closing without the show.

It wasn't required, but it was tradition.

It was like Carol Burnett tugging her ear at the end of the show, or Jimmy Durante saying "good night Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are."

It was like George M. Cohan at the end of his performance with "my mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you and I thank you."

It was our state's grand old tradition and it was sandbagged in one night by a speaker turned schoolyard bully.

I think that noise you make when you stick out your tongue and blow is the same in Latin. I'm doing that right now.

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays and Sundays.



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