On the opening day of Washington’s 2021 legislative session, lawmakers in both the House and the Senate devoted their time to establishing the rules that will dictate an unprecedented amount of remote work in the coming months.
The debate Monday fell along party lines, with Democrats largely supportive of the temporary rules that will allow most of the work of government to be done from home. Republicans were critical of the new processes, stressing that moving their daily work from Olympia would amount to inaccessibility for themselves and their constituents.
That division held true among the delegation of lawmakers from Clark County, who represent the 17th, 18th and 49th Legislative Districts.
Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, will again act as majority floor leader in the current session. Around noon on Monday, she addressed the House chamber, sparsely filled by elected officials split into four separate quadrants to adhere to social distancing rules.
“If this was a normal first day of session … we would have the gallery filled with family and press. There would be hundreds, maybe thousands of people walking through the halls,” Stonier said. “It is not safe to gather as we have in the past.”
“While it may be slower, and it may be different and challenging, it is temporary, and we will not put the institution at risk of shutting down because of an outbreak,” Stonier continued, referring to the shift to remote government. “That’s governing, and it’s also what Washingtonians expect of us.”
The House vote to approve remote work rules ultimately passed Monday, 55 votes to 39. The Republicans from Clark County (Reps. Vicki Kraft, Paul Harris, Larry Hoff and Brandon Vick) all voted against the resolution. The county’s two Democrats (Stonier and Rep. Sharon Wylie) voted in favor.
Kraft, who represents the 17th District, said in a media release Monday that one of her top priorities in the upcoming session will be trimming Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency powers.
“For nearly 10 months, it’s been one man, the governor, who has dictated through emergency proclamations, how our state is run, picking winners and losers along the way,” Kraft said. “Numerous requests by House and Senate Republicans for a special session to be called and allow elected representatives to govern during the governor’s shutdowns were ignored.”
In the Senate, a resolution to close the regular session and immediately open an emergency 30-day session focused exclusively on COVID-19 — a common request from Republicans since the pandemic started — did not win enough votes to move forward.
The Senate also passed resolutions outlining the parameters of its remote work in the coming months.
Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, spoke several times during the proceedings to push for better access among the minority party lawmakers and their constituents.
“We continue to be concerned about the lack of access and transparency,” said Braun, who also serves as the Senate Republican leader. “These are things you’re going to hear a lot over the next 105 days.”