They agonize over how to collect the state cattle tax. They fret about saving the small whorled pogonia from extinction. They argue the issue of bartenders serving a pitcher of beer to individuals drinking alone.

And that's just the start.

They spend hours commemorating motherhood and apple pie and lauding high school football teams and spelling bee winners.

It's all in a day's work for the Western Hemisphere's oldest continuous legislative body: The Virginia General Assembly. No bill is too mundane, no resolution too frivolous.

Del. Gladys B. Keating (D-Fairfax) says all the time and effort spent commemorating and complimenting with resolutions is a valuable "good will gesture" for the folks back home. "They get a lovely scroll . . . . It looks good framed," she said.

And while virtually every legislature in the nation falls victim to actions that cater to particular constituents, it is an especially venerated phenomenon in Virginia, where lawmakers take their roles so seriously that it often takes years to conclude major legislative issues.

On less ponderous matters, such as the issue of happy hour, things tend to happen faster. It is no laughing matter for Del. W.R. O'Brien, a Virginia Beach Republican running for state attorney general. He wants to outlaw happy hour gimmicks -- no free drinks, no extra booze in drinks, no drinking contests, no two-for-one drink deals. And he would outlaw serving a full pitcher of beer to an individual drinking alone, at happy hour or any other time.

"We just put things in the bill covering all the areas people had concerns with," said O'Brien, adding that he expects the bill to face an uphill battle. "And that's not going to help this bill."

This year, Virginia lawmakers will consider 1,544 bills and resolutions before they return to their homes at the conclusion of the 46-day session. About half of the measures will end up in committee room wastebaskets or meet other legislative deaths.

The others will be changed, twisted and stretched into new, barely recognizable forms before they enter the state's voluminous law books.

Some will be laughed into oblivion; others will be laughed into law.

Take Del. James F. Almand's measure outlawing public urination. The Arlington Democrat wants to "make it unlawful for any person to intentionally urinate in any public place unless such place is specificially designated for that purpose."

Almand says he is trying to correct a serious law enforcement problem. A House subcommittee this week found very little to be serious about as its members traded off-color wisecracks.

Plants are not left off the list of amusing subjects for bills, either.

The General Assembly officially has dubbed the small whorled pogonia an endangered species. Never heard of it? That is probably because the rare little orchid grows in only three spots in Virginia and in about 30 locations around the country.

But the legislature may say enough to these amateur botany matters. The small whorled pogonia could be the last species declared endangered by state lawmakers. Another bill would turn that authority over to the state Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Hundreds of special resolutions also are grinding their way through this year's legislative machinery. Joseph H. Holleman Jr., clerk of the House of Delegates, says a bill or resolution can cost up to $1,000 to draft.

There have been a stadium full of commendations for baseball, basketball and football teams.

They have honored the golden anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the 100th anniversary of the Village Preservation and Improvement Society of Falls Church. There have been official praises for a spelling bee champ from back home who prompted Del. Robert T. Andrews (R-Fairfax) to note: "The words he's able to spell, I can't even pronounce." In a legislature where gallons of caffeine are gulped daily, one lawmaker has suggested empaneling a special committee to "determine the extent of caffeine abuse in Virginia." He doesn't mean coffee and cola, he insists, but caffeine in its pure form, which has been responsible for several recent deaths in Southwestern Virginia. The cost of the study is estimated at $8,000.

Meanwhile, as they sip caffeine in its more diluted forms, legislators are pondering the issues of stockpiling old tires and defining what constitutes a cemetery and a grave.

And through it all, there is the frequent comment: "There are two things that you should never watch being made. One is sausage, the other is laws."