In recent weeks, The Columbian has editorially weighed in on several issues facing the Legislature this year. But with the session having started Monday, we would be remiss to ignore the basics.
While seemingly everybody has an opinion about what lawmakers do, not enough people understand the process that leads to those decisions or take advantage of opportunities to follow that process.
The Columbian will provide coverage of legislative issues throughout the session, which under the state constitution is limited to 105 days in odd-numbered years. News pages will provide factual reporting of what is happening in Olympia, while the Editorial Board occasionally will discuss legislative actions on the Opinion page. All coverage also is available at Columbian.com and in the newspaper’s e-edition.
While The Columbian typically will focus on issues that are particularly pertinent to Southwest Washington, other sources also allow readers to follow legislative actions. Each bill has its own page on the Legislature’s website, and the site also includes a schedule of legislative hearings.
The page for each bill allows for public comments that can be sent to your local legislator, and inquiries about any topic can be sent directly to lawmakers.
The internet has greatly expanded the ability of constituents to contact representatives and to follow their actions throughout the legislative session. It also has expanded the ability of the public to formally comment on bills working their way through the Legislature.
Residents may sign up for remote formal testimony for either a House bill or a Senate bill. Remote testimony has made state government more accessible to the public, rather than requiring a trip to Olympia for a few minutes of testimony.
The most pressing duty for lawmakers will be developing a two-year state operating budget to run from July 1 of this year through June 30, 2025. They also will be tasked with passing a transportation budget and a capital budget for the next two years.
The budget for the current biennium is $59.2 billion, and Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a $70 billion operating budget for 2023-25.
Critics like to point out that the state operating budget for 2019-21 was $54.2 billion, and that a $70 billion budget this time around would represent a 29 percent increase over four years. For comparison, because of population growth, inflation and a robust economy, Washington’s gross domestic product increased 21 percent from 2018 to 2022.
While budgets will grab the bulk of the attention during this year’s legislative actions, they will not be publicly discussed until late in the session. In the meantime, lawmakers will consider bills regarding housing, education, gun regulations, drug criminalization, and a lack of workforce in important sectors such as law enforcement, health care and day care.
Bills are first considered in House or Senate committees and, if they pass there, go to the full chamber. A bill must pass both chambers before being sent to Inslee for approval. In Washington, the governor may veto all or part of a bill.
With Democrats holding a 58-40 advantage in the House and a 29-20 advantage in the Senate — as well as the governor’s office — the party has unfettered power to set the agenda in Olympia.
When one party or the other has complete legislative control, it increases the need of the public to be informed and involved. And that remains one of the basics of America’s form of representative democracy.