Senate members stand as a ceremonial presentation of colors is done virtually on a video screen above on Monday at the Capitol in Olympia. Washington state’s Legislature convened Monday under a large security presence because of concerns about efforts by armed groups who might try to disrupt the proceedings or occupy the Capitol, which is closed to the public due to the ongoing pandemic. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Senate members stand as a ceremonial presentation of colors is done virtually on a video screen above on Monday at the Capitol in Olympia. Washington state’s Legislature convened Monday under a large security presence because of concerns about efforts by armed groups who might try to disrupt the proceedings or occupy the Capitol, which is closed to the public due to the ongoing pandemic. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Session begins with social distancing, heightened security

An Everett man arrested as lawmakers prepared for the session, which will focus on the pandemic.

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers began their 2021 session Monday socially distanced inside the state Capitol to combat the coronavirus and a gauntlet of law enforcement officers outside to protect against any disruptions.

There was little pomp in the House and Senate as members passed, along party lines, rules clearing the way to switch into all-virtual mode for the remainder of the session.

And there turned out to be not much protesting either.

As rain fell steadily throughout the day, hundreds of Washington State Patrol officers and Washington National Guard members did sentry duty behind temporary fencing erected around the Capitol building perimeter.

Gov. Jay Inslee activated 750 members of the Washington National Guard to help the State Patrol prevent anyone from trying to breach the Capitol, like what occurred in Washington, D.C., last week.

In the moments before the Senate convened at 11 a.m. troopers arrested a 30-year-old Everett man as he attempted to breach their line and walk into an area off-limits to the public.

“He knew he was going to be arrested as a result of that action,” state patrol spokesperson Sgt. Darren Wright said.

Hours later, Wright announced that man, Thomas Hughes, was among protesters who trespassed Jan. 6 onto the property of the governor’s mansion. Hughes will face charges of failure to comply and criminal trespassing, both misdemeanors, Wright said.

Aside from Hughes, no one else attempted to disrupt the proceedings marking the start of an unprecedented 105-day session.

“It’s a good afternoon,” state patrol spokesperson Chris Loftis said. “Our goal was to make sure the Legislature was able to meet, no one was hurt, no one was harmed, no one was killed, the buildings weren’t damaged.”

A few dozen protesters gathered at the entry gate into the fenced-off area around the Capitol.

Some wore military fatigues and carried weapons. Few wore clothing in support of President Donald Trump.

They voiced displeasure with Inslee’s response to the pandemic including the mask mandate and restrictions which have shuttered businesses.

There were denouncements of Socialism and the news media.

And frustration with law enforcement.

“How many ‘Back the Blue’ rallies did you go to, off duty?” one man yelled to the state troopers.

“We’re not the ones defunding the police,” another said.

At times, the protesters turned their attention to nearby reporters.

“We’re coming for you next,” one man yelled.

Since April 11, there have been 150 unlawful gatherings at the state capital, Loftis said.

“A couple of those were actually weddings,” Wright said.

The largest event, a protest, drew a crowd of about 2,500 people. Most were smaller.

“We want people to come and express their rights, and we want them to do it appropriately, like they are doing so far,” Loftis said.

Monday could be the only time the entire Legislature congregates at the Capitol this session.

They had to be present to adopt rules allowing for this virtual session. Voting in each chamber required members going on and off the floor to comply with social distancing rules that limit the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings.

Staff members perform health checks at the entrance to the House Chambers Monday at the Capitol in Olympia. Washington state’s Legislature will open under a large security presence because of concerns about efforts by armed groups who might try to disrupt the proceedings or occupy the Capitol, which is closed to the public due to the ongoing pandemic. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Staff members perform health checks at the entrance to the House Chambers Monday at the Capitol in Olympia. Washington state’s Legislature will open under a large security presence because of concerns about efforts by armed groups who might try to disrupt the proceedings or occupy the Capitol, which is closed to the public due to the ongoing pandemic. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

While the session will be conducted in unprecedented fashion online, the political dynamics will be unchanged from recent years.

Democrats will control the conversation. They outnumber Republicans 57-41 in the House and hold a 28-21 edge in the Senate. With Inslee, also a Democrat, the party enjoys a trifecta of political power.

The chief task of the Legislature is to enact a new two-year state operating budget to take effect July 1. Lawmakers also will cobble together two-year spending plans for capital construction and transportation.

An armed protester stands outside the Capitol Monday in Olympia. According to organizers, some protesters are unhappy the Legislature will meeting virtually and in sessions not open to the public, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during the 2021 session which opens Monday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

An armed protester stands outside the Capitol Monday in Olympia. According to organizers, some protesters are unhappy the Legislature will meeting virtually and in sessions not open to the public, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during the 2021 session which opens Monday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic will be the major story line of the 2021 session.

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.

This year’s agenda will also include efforts to pass a new capital gains tax, policing reforms, and carbon emission pricing approach.

Division emerged Monday in each chamber as majority Democrats defended the virtues of an all-virtual session from criticism of Republicans. Republicans also expressed frustration with the months-long closure of the Capitol to the public — a concern accented by the presence of hundreds of law enforcement officers.

Democrats argued under the rules the public will gain opportunities to make their voices heard in public hearings because they will be able to testify remotely, something they could only do on a limited basis before.

And they said it is necessary to be remote this session to keep lawmakers, staff and members of the public safe by preventing situations in which they could be exposed to the potentially deadly virus.

“I wish we were not in the middle of a global pandemic but we are,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood.

Everyone desires a return to normal operation but, he said, “it is clear that today, in early January 2021, it is not safe for members of the public to gather at the Capitol and it’s not safe for staff and members of the Legislature to gather at the Capitol in person.”

Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said his caucus wanted to ensure the public has “maximum transparency” of the process and “maximum access” to lawmakers and the Capitol.

“How on Earth is it okay to shop at a Big Box or small retail store but it is not okay to enter the Capitol,” he said.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he didn’t want to put anyone in harm’s way but not allowing anyone to gather on the Capitol steps Monday was too much.

“Gov. Inslee, tear down this wall,” he said, referring to the temporary fencing

GOP lawmakers also said a lack of high-speed Internet in rural areas will leave those residents unable to fully participate.

“I represent tens of thousands who absolutely do not have access to high-speed Internet,” said Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Wooley. “Those are voices we are not going to hear this session.”

Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, sits at his desk on the Senate floor Monday at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, sits at his desk on the Senate floor Monday at the Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In an emotional moment in the House, Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, said he contracted COVID in October and spent eight days in the hospital, including several in intensive care. Nonetheless, he’s concerned the fully remote session will exclude residents without adequate technology.

“I know what (COVID) is. I know how hard it is. I know how important it is to keep ourselves safe,” he said. “I don’t know how we can do the people’s work if we overload the system.”

On Monday, the House was the scene of calls for unity this session.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said the pandemic has brought pain and hardship to every corner of the state. With vaccines and continued commitment to wearing masks and social distancing, there’s reason to be optimistic, she said.

“We are in the hardest of times,” she said in an address to the chamber. “But in these hard times, hope is on the horizon. Our job for every minute of the next 105 days is to not just keep hope alive for the people of our great state, but to make hope a reality.”

House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said the “impact of COVID has divided us like never before.” He urged his colleagues to put aside their egos and party agendas and to “reject name calling and shaming” and pursue policies benefiting all Washingtonians.

“I think everyone expects us —even though it is 10 times harder with COVID — to be better,” he said.

Herald reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

Talk to us

More in Local News

A car breaks and waits for traffic to pass before turning onto 123rd Avenue on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021 in Lake Stevens, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Can roundabouts, lower speed limit make 84th Street NE safer?

Maybe, but transportation and disability advocates want design features to make crossing safe.

Two brother bear cubs, burned in a fire last summer, were recently reunited at PAWS in Lynnwood. (PAWS) 20211129
Bear cubs, burned in wildfires, reunited in viral video in Lynnwood

The brother cubs are being treated at PAWS Wildlife Center. They were injured in a wildfire near Lake Chelan.

Everett officials have questions about a 125-room hotel shelter

City Council members say they weren’t aware of the county’s proposal until it made headlines.

A fatal crash prompted closure of West Mukilteo Boulevard between Forest Park and Dogwood Drive Friday afternoon. (Everett Police Department) 20211126
2 identified in deadly T-bone crash in Everett

Otila Retel Azanedo de Jones, 67, and William Jones, 85, died at the scene.

Reagan Dunn to take on U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier in 8th District

The Republican is challenging incumbent Democrat Kim Schrier in a district which could include a slice of Snohomish County.

A man died after he was found with gunshot wounds Saturday in downtown Everett. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Man dead after shooting in downtown Everett

The man, believed to be in his 40s, was found near California Street and Rockefeller Avenue.

Rear Adm. Christopher Sweeney, commander of Puget Sound-based Carrier Strike Group 11, in Bremerton on Nov. 23, 2021. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Justin McTaggart)
From Everett, this rear admiral commands a Navy strike group

Christopher Sweeney leads Carrier Strike Group 11, a force of aircraft and ships stretching from here to San Diego.

Charges: Everett ID thief tried to buy wheels, speakers, more

The man, 33, was charged this week with 10 counts of identity theft in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Bradley Woolard (U.S. Attorney's Office)
Arlington-area man who led fentanyl ring gets 20 years

When Bradley Woolard’s home was raided in 2018, authorities found more than 12,000 fentanyl pills.

Most Read