The 2022 session of the Washington State Legislature has begun!
Shortly after noon today, the latest meeting of the state’s bicameral legislative branch was gaveled open by House Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck, kicking off two months of onsite and remote lawmaking.
The 2022 session is expected to run through March 10th, 2022, the last day allowed by the Washington State Constitution for a regular session in an even-numbered election year like the one we’re in.
Democrats continue to wield a fifty-seven member majority in the House and twenty-eight member majority in the Senate. Legislative leaders have cited several priorities for this short session. Among them are adopting a set of supplemental budgets, reforming the WA Cares long-term care initiative, and tweaking some of the police accountability laws passed last year.
“All our families, in every district, deserve the opportunity to move forward and make some headway,” said Speaker Laurie Jinkins said in a set of traditional session opening remarks from the rostrum, observing that past rebounds from recessionary gaps “haven’t [always] brought everyone along.”
Republicans continued to lament that not everyone is together at the state capital for the session. Top House Republican J.T. Wilcox has argued that lack of face to face interaction in 2021 led to suboptimal results.
“I think the process is breaking down,” he said. “It’s a disaster for you, your caucus and the state if, as you’re winning, you’re not allowing the minority (party) and the citizens of Washington to help you avoid making mistakes.”
Democrats pointed out that many aspects of the legislative process have gotten more accessible despite the remote nature of the last session. (For example, a person wishing to testify no longer has to give up most or all of their day to go down to Olympia just to speak for a minute or two.) And they declared that they’re listening to input gathered over the interim to make sensible adjustments to many of the groundbreaking policy bills enacted last year.
In the past few days, four Democratic state senators have tested positive for COVID-19, underscoring the necessity and importance of gathering remotely.
New State Senator John Lovick (D‑44th District: Snohomish County) was the first to announce a positive diagnosis, on Friday, January 7th.
“I’m fine, I have a bit of a cold but other than that I feel OK,” said Lovick.
“One thing is for sure – I’m relieved that I’m both vaccinated and boosted.
“I wear my mask, I wash my hands about twenty times a day and I still got it. This virus is nothing to mess around with and we all have to do our part to protect ourselves and each other.”
The next day (Saturday, January 8th), Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D‑3rd District: Spokane) said he had come with down the virus as well.
“I am grateful to have been vaccinated and boosted, which I know has prevented me from having any significant symptoms.” said Billig.
“I also appreciate that we have the technology in place to facilitate a hybrid legislative session so Senators can fully participate in legislative activities even while they quarantine. I do not expect this positive test will keep me from any of my legislative duties as session gets underway next week.”
This morning, Senator Mark Mullet (D‑5th District: Issaquah, Maple Valley, and other communities in East King County) said he too had tested positive.
“If I had to get it, this is probably the best time of year to get it,” Mullet said. “As the owner of a restaurant, which is a business where you can’t miss work, I was lucky not to catch the virus when I had to be available to manage my restaurant.”
“After my wife got COVID last Tuesday, I’ve gotten tested to make sure it’s been safe for me to take care of our kids,” Mullet added. “As recently as Saturday night I tested negative, but after my positive test in Olympia this morning I just got in my car and headed back home to prepare for a week of remote work.”
Hours later, there was yet another similar announcement, this time from Senator Yasmin Trudeau (D‑27th District: Tacoma).
“I’m grateful that I can isolate at home with my family to minimize the possibility of spread, and I’m especially glad that my husband and I were vaccinated against this virus,” said Trudeau. “It’s scary to have COVID when we have a little one here at home who’s too young to be vaccinated, but we’re monitoring all of our symptoms extremely closely and know that we have an incredible community surrounding us to help us take care of our family.”
“I’m drawing on the resilience of our loved ones, the support of my colleagues and the encouragement that comes from knowing the Legislature is well-prepared to conduct the people’s business remotely.”
“This isn’t the way I wanted to start my first session, but I’m no less excited and ready to do the work our community wants done. After a full isolation and recovery, I plan to go to Olympia when it is safe and possible to do so – but whether I’m there or here at home, I’m ready to work.”
Lovick, Mullet, and Billig all noted that they are triple vaccinated. Trudeau did not mention how many doses she’s received, but she may also be triple vaccinated.
Washington State, like much of the rest of the United States and world community, is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, driven in part by the highly infectious omicron variant.
13,689 cases were reported yesterday, according to the Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard. 19,150 new cases were reported on Saturday the 8th and 14,871 new cases were reported on Friday the 7th. Hospitalizations stand at 47,807, up from 46,215 on New Year’s Day.
Governor Jay Inslee is slated to deliver his annual State of the State Address tomorrow. However, instead of appearing in a packed House chamber, Inslee will offer remarks from the State Reception Room in the Legislative Building before a small number of media representatives and gubernatorial staff. Lawmakers will watch the speech remotely along with the public.
If you’d like to watch, navigate to tvw.org at noon on Tuesday, January 11th.