The 67th Washington State Legislature is officially in session.
After months of planning and preparation, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate gaveled their respective chambers to order earlier today in Olympia and promptly proceeded to adopt rules providing for the first ever mostly remote legislative session, over the objections of Republicans.
As a small gang of pro-Trump forces grumbled and yelled outside of the perimeter set up around the Legislative Building (one was arrested), pro-Trump Republican legislators inside the building tried unsuccessfully to alter the proposed rules for the session to relax physical distancing requirements and permit Washingtonians to observe the work of the Legislature in person, which would be unsafe and against the guidance issued by public health experts to legislative leaders.
Democrats defeated the proposed rule changes in a succession of floor votes and the rules in each chamber were adopted as drafted.
Senator Andy Billig noted in his floor speech supporting the Senate Democratic majority’s rules proposal that the new rules, while not allowing the Legislative Building to be open to the public, would nevertheless open up the legislative process in several important ways. For example, the rules will allow proceedings of the Senate Rules Committee to be televised for the first time ever. (In the past, to watch the proceedings, it was necessary to be physically present in the room.)
The chambers also chose their officers. The House reelected Laurie Jinkins as Speaker and Tina Orwall and John Lovick as Speakers Pro Tem. The Senate, meanwhile, reelected Karen Keiser as President Pro Tempore and elected Steve Conway and Steve Hobbs to be Vice Presidents Pro Tempore.
Bernard Dean remains the Chief Clerk of the House.
Brad Hendrickson remains the Secretary of the Senate.
Senate Democrats welcomed new Senator T’wina Nobles to their caucus. House Democrats welcomed new Representatives Alicia Rule, Tarra Simmons, April Berg, Jamila Taylor, Liz Berry, Dan Bronoske, David Hackney, Kirsten Harris-Talley, and Jessica Bateman to their caucus.
Senate Republicans welcomed new Senators Jeff Wilson, Jim McCune, Perry Dozier, and Chris Gildon to their caucus. House Republicans welcomed new Representatives Peter Abbarno, Greg Gilday, Rob Chase, Mark Klicker, Eric Robertson, Joel McEntire, and Cyndy Jacobsen to their caucus.
Upon concluding their opening ceremonies and adopting rules for the sessions, both chambers adjourned for the day. Tomorrow, legislative committees will begin meeting in earnest for work sessions and to hear bills.
On Wednesday, January 13th, Governor Inslee will deliver his third inaugural address. New State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti and new Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck will also be sworn in and assume their duties. Other returning members of the executive department (besides Inslee) will also swear or affirm new oaths to the Washington State Constitution and U.S. Constitution.
“Today convenes one of the most unique and challenging legislative sessions I can remember for our state,” said Governor Jay Inslee in a lengthy statement.
“As the pandemic era has forced us all to adapt our processes, the Legislature is no exception. At the same time, decisions await legislators that will impact our state for generations going forward.”
These are my priorities for this legislative session: Relief, recovery and resilience. Relief for the here-and-now; a recovery plan to turn the corner; and resilience for our long-term wellbeing, including economic health, public health, a stronger education system, and greater preparedness for future challenges, including climate change.
My agenda calls for immediate action on $200 million more in aid for small businesses, and landlords and tenants. My priorities also include getting more children back into the classroom in safe and healthy environments this year, as well as improving the state’s public health system so more lives can be saved from this pandemic.
We must have more assistance to workers who have lost their jobs. We need to help everyone get back to a safe work environment. We need to keep people from losing their housing and get more who are experiencing homelessness under a safe roof.
The pandemic era has made this inequity that much clearer, as the concentration of wealth at the top has only accelerated while Main Street has suffered and more families wonder whether they can afford food and other basic needs.
That’s why I want to fund the Working Families Tax Credit. We can help fund it with a capital gains tax; one that would impact less than 2% of Washingtonians. At the same time, we’re going to lower unemployment insurance taxes for small businesses that unexpectedly had to lay off record numbers of employees.
When we do come through this emergency, we are not going back to normal; we are going to create a better normal, together.
This goes beyond COVID-19. We can’t just address economic disparities without acknowledging racial disparities.
We think of one another as equal because it is one of this nation’s principles, but we can’t be equal until we live as equals.
My legislative agenda takes aim at these inequities in all of these areas, whether it’s reforming independent investigations, environmental justice, improving our health systems, expanding job training and early childhood education.
I look forward to honest conversations with the Legislature about these issues and action that will benefit all Washingtonians.
Our team at NPI congratulates all the new state lawmakers who have taken office. As in past sessions, we will be working to secure the passage of legislation that would raise all Washingtonians’ quality of life.
We have launched the 2021 incarnation of our Statehouse Bill Tracker on our Advocacy page, and we invite Cascadia Advocate readers to take advantage of this incredibly useful resource, which is now in its tenth year.