2021 Washington Legislature, Day 1 of 105
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OLYMPIA, Jan. 11, 2021 — It’s Opening Day of the new session — and the premiere edition of the Cornfield Report.
A year ago, we launched this emailed weekday newsletter offering a snapshot of sights, sounds and smackdowns during the legislative session.
What a ride.
At the outset of that 60-day session, conversations careened from the fate of policies to the future of Matt Shea, a Spokane lawmaker who retired after a House-sanctioned investigation accused him of engaging in an act of domestic terrorism, intimidating political enemies and training young adults to fight a Holy war. By the time the 2020 session ended, Shea was a footnote and the COVID-19 pandemic had consumed the attention of lawmakers and the rest of us.
Season 2 of the newsletter comes with a notable change.
The Cornfield Report will arrive in your inbox on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. That’s not because there’s less to say during a longer, 105-day session. Rather, our newsroom budget took a hit from the pandemic-induced economic downturn. We have fewer resources, so we will begin this session with a more-modest schedule of three days per week. (That doesn’t mean we won’t occasionally send a report on a Tuesday or a Thursday, should news warrant it.)
Meanwhile, the pandemic will be the major story line of the 2021 session, which opens at 11 a.m. in the Senate and noon in the House.
The pandemic’s impact on the public health system will be addressed. So, too, will the pain of families and small businesses struggling to survive months of restrictions on public life and commerce — most of which are in force indefinitely. And the extent to which a governor can operate in an emergency will also be on the table.
Today, expect little pomp, lots of process and potentially hours of protests.
Inside the Capitol building, Democrats will use their majorities in the House and Senate to adopt rules allowing for a completely virtual session. Republicans will use their voices to push back.
Outside, the Washington State Patrol is bracing for loud, and potentially violent, demonstrations. Members of a right-wing political group have vowed on social media to show up every day of session to demand access to the Capitol, which will be closed to the public to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (However, I hear one of the organizers now says a daily occupation is canceled.)
Gov. Jay Inslee has activated 750 members of the Washington National Guard to help the State Patrol stop folks from trying to breach the Capitol, like what occurred in Washington, D.C., last week.
Temporary fencing has been erected. Lawmakers, state officials and reporters will be allowed inside. Legislators are nervous about coming in.
So nervous that they staggered the start times for the session.
They won’t have to do so very often. After Day 1, everything will pretty much be handled online.
No committees are meeting today. Sixteen panels will meet Tuesday, starting with an 8 a.m. hearing of the House Public Safety Committee on a bill barring police from using chokeholds and neck restraints — the technique a Minnesota police officer used in the killing of George Floyd last year.
The session is to run through April 26. If a new two-year budget isn’t enacted by then, legislating will continue beyond that date.
Notice I didn’t say “special session.” I only thought it. Let’s see how things play out.
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Non-profit TVW covers state government in Olympia and selected events statewide. Programs are available for replay on the internet, and the channel is widely available on Washington cable systems.
Beat reporters: Jerry Cornfield (Herald) | Rachel La Corte (AP) | Joseph O’Sullivan (Times) | Jim Brunner (Times) | Austin Jenkins (NW News Network) | Melissa Santos (Crosscut) | Sara Gentzler (McClatchy) | Jim Camden (Spokesman-Review)