Washington State Capitol in Olympia
Washington State Capitol in Olympia

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.

Sev­er­al mem­bers of the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court also began new terms today, and Jus­tice Steven Gon­za­lez assumed his new duties as Chief Jus­tice.

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.”

Inslee added:

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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