HNU seniors Claudia Mendoza and Franny Zabala have been working as interns at the Office of the Secretary of the California Senate in Sacramento since they were sophomores in high school. It’s not an exaggeration to say that they have accumulated more experience working in government than some elected officials. Both Mendoza and Zabala have participated in all the duties that come with working within the Office of the Secretary of the Senate: helping to make sure the floor sessions run smoothly; recording the legislative record; completing administrative projects to ensure the orderly conduct of business; and assisting with the process of amending bills.
It all started when they were 15 years old. Mendoza and Zabala attended Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. Cristo Rey is a Catholic high school that provides underserved students a college preparatory education; for their part, students contribute to the school’s financial stability by working in Cristo Rey’s work-study program, which places them in jobs throughout the Sacramento area. As Mendoza and Zabala explained, students at Cristo Rey are expected to work at their internships once a week throughout the school year.
After their freshman years, Mendoza and Zabala were placed, by the work-study program, in internships at the Office of the Secretary of the California Senate. There was no formal interview process, but as Zabala mentioned, “That whole year was kind of like an interview process, because they could have let go of us at any time. Cristo Rey set up the internship, but it was up to us to deliver.”
Both students were invited to return to work at the California Capitol for the summer following their sophomore year and for all the subsequent academic years and summers of their high school careers. In addition, Mendoza and Zabala have been invited back to the office for many recent summers, when they’ve been on break from HNU. The two are quick to express their gratitude to their supervisor at the Capitol, Bernadette McNulty, the chief assistant secretary of the senate, for advocating on their behalf and making sure that they were paid for their post-high-school work.
So what’s an average day like for an intern at the Office of the Secretary of the California Senate? As it turns out, it varies a lot from day to day. Both Mendoza and Zabala helped with administrative tasks in cooperation with the Senate Desk staff: they answered phone inquiries, directed lobbyists to the Senate’s Sergeant-At-Arms (lobbyists are only permitted to be in certain areas of the building), and helped record the legislative history. But one of their biggest responsibilities was to lend a hand with amending bills.
Zabala, who’s majoring in international relations and minoring in business, explained what it means to amend a bill. “A lot of people think that everything’s done on computers, but what we do is we will sit in the back and actually cross out by hand, and insert what they [the lawmakers] want, cutting and pasting, all by hand, like they did back in the day,” she said. “It’s a tradition they’ve had since the legislature started and they’re going to discontinue it this year, because it’s tedious. But they’ve held onto it because it’s a tradition.”
Once a bill has been physically amended, it is forwarded to Engrossing and Enrollment, which is where Mendoza—who’s majoring in business with a concentration in international business and management—spent a lot of her time. “[Engrossing and Enrollment] is where we read the corrections that were made and we make sure that everything that they [the lawmakers] wanted to get amended got amended, and that it got amended correctly,” she said. “So after the bills are put into print and we get the actual bill—if it comes down to it then we read the whole bill. We read every comma, every punctuation mark, everything.”
If someone in Engrossing and Enrollment catches a typo or misspelling in the amended bill—like Mendoza did this summer on three occasions with the help of her reading partner, Julie Marania—the bill is sent back to committee to be corrected. Since the process is so comprehensive, it can be very time-consuming, which gets especially tricky towards the end of a session when lawmakers are submitting dozens of amendments.
“During the end of session, the last day to amend bills, the days can be very long and hectic,” Mendoza said. “Because people decide to bring their bills at the last minute, with 100 or more amendments, and we can’t leave until it’s done. On top of that we still have to proofread to make sure the amendments were done correctly.” She smiled, then added, “It’s pretty hectic, but it’s a nice experience.”
Working at the Capitol
Besides their day-to-day work, Mendoza and Zabala also did research for special projects. For the last several years, Mendoza has been helping to edit a book of biographies of all the individuals who have served as California State Senators throughout the legislature’s history. When the book is published, Mendoza will be listed as an editor. Among other projects, Zabala did extensive research on all the standing and select committees that have existed in the history of the Senate.
In addition to all the experience they’ve acquired through their years of interning in Sacramento, Mendoza and Zabala have also had a lot of fun and enjoyed themselves.
“I just love being part of history,” Zabala said. “We’re writing down what’s happening in the legislature, which I think is so cool. I can open a Senate journal from 1850, and you can even look it up on the internet, and it was someone on the desk staff who made that record.”
Mendoza echoed Zabala’s sentiments. “I just really like learning the whole process of when a bill becomes a law. It’s also really interesting to see how the senators debate. I really like how they debate and how they try to convince each other to vote for each other’s bills. So I really enjoy seeing that, how they interact with each other during session and how they interact with each other outside the Senate Chamber.”
Words of Advice
When asked about their work, both Mendoza and Zabala are effusive in recommending the experience of interning.
“I would say it’s always important to do an internship, even if it’s not in your field. It’s important to do an internship because that is how you gain actual work experience. Doing an internship anywhere can help you in the long run,” Mendoza said.
Zabala had similar advice. “Well, what we’re always told is that your resume should always have as many internships as possible and that’s what supervisors are really looking for, real-life experience,” she said. “Because when you graduate there’s going to be so much competition. Never lose your connections because your connections might save you—your connections can make you stand out. Have fun and try to find something you like to do.”