The Capitol building in Olympia will remain closed to the public and lobbyists due to the pandemic. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, file)

The Capitol building in Olympia will remain closed to the public and lobbyists due to the pandemic. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, file)

Washington Legislature to mix in-person, virtual work

At least 25 members must be in the chamber in person to vote on changes to Senate rules.

By Rachel La Corte / Associated Press

OLYMPIA — When the Washington state Legislature convenes in January, the Capitol building will remain closed to the public and lobbyists due to the pandemic, and lawmakers will do their work through a mix of virtual meetings and on-site votes.

The Senate Facilities and Operations Committee met Thursday to discuss the protocols for the 105-day session that begins Jan. 11, including a remote option via Zoom for the public to join committee hearings.

“Obviously this is going to be a challenging session,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig said at the meeting. “The pandemic has affected every part of our lives and the Legislature is certainly impacted greatly as well.”

The state House has not yet made a final decision on how to approach its session, but Democratic Speaker Laurie Jinkins told reporters that members are leaning toward doing their work completely remotely, with one lawmaker presiding from the chamber and limited staff on campus.

“The guiding principles that I think we’ve been operating under are that we have to be able to do the people’s work, it has to be able to be done in an accountable and a transparent way and people have to be kept safe,” Jinkins said. “Those are the things we are trying to balance.”

Under the plan approved by the Senate committee along party lines, new senators will be sworn in individually, and at least 25 members must be in the chamber in person on the first day of the session to vote on changes to Senate rules. Votes will occur in shifts to ensure adequate social distancing. Republican members voted against the plan, saying they had concerns about public access.

Regular floor votes will be conducted in a hybrid format, with a mix of senators present in the chamber and others participating remotely. Before the session starts, the Facilities and Operations Committee will make a decision on how many senators and staff are allowed on the floor, rostrum and in the wings, and may adjust that number during if necessary.

Any person working on the Capitol campus during the session will be required to wear a mask in all legislative facilities, unless they are alone in their office, and will have to maintain social distancing of at least six feet. Senate employees will continue to telework as much as possible, though some staff may work on site on a limited basis to manage committee hearings and other tasks.

Credentialed members of the Capitol press corps will be allowed to observe floor votes from the Senate gallery, though no more than six members of the media may be present in the gallery at a time.

As of this week, there have been more than 111,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington since the pandemic began, and 2,416 people have died.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, although long-term effects are unknown. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Talk to us

More in Northwest

Coho runs expected in the ocean and in Puget Sound dropped significantly in 2020. (Mike Benbow, file)
Time running out for Northwest salmon species, report says

Habitat restoration projects have not kept pace with ongoing habitat loss, especially in urban areas.

Hollie Jordan surveys her father's service station that was destroyed by wildfire, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Malden, Wash. "This was filled with work and life and memories and it's all gone," said Jordan. (AP Photo/Jed Conklin)
State Rep.: Trump is blocking federal aid because of Inslee

It’s been more than four months since a wildfire tore through two towns in Eastern Washington.

Police: Thief berated mom for leaving kid in car he stole

“He actually lectured the mother for leaving the child in the car and threatened to call the police.”

Democrats in the Washington State House are proposing to pay for transportation improvements partly by raising the gas tax by 18 cents. (Andrea Brown / Herald file)
Gas tax increase part of Dems’ massive transportation package

An 18-cent gas tax hike and a fee on carbon emissions would raise $25.8 billion for new roads and more.

12 arrested after blocking I-5 lanes in Seattle

During the protest, the group painted the letters “BLM” on the pavement.

A sign in set up to alert that the vaccine station at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds, is by appointment only, on Monday, Jan. 18, 2020 in Monroe, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Inslee: New vaccination phase includes everyone 65 and older

The move to Phase 1b means more than 200,000 Snohomish County residents are eligible for the vaccine.

Members of the Washington National Guard stand at a sundial near the Legislative Building, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Governors in some states have called out the National Guard, declared states of emergency and closed their capitols over concerns about potentially violent protests. Though details remain murky, demonstrations are expected at state capitols beginning Sunday and leading up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington National Guard members activated for inauguration

The extra security comes in the wake of the insurgence at the U.S. Capitol last week.

Park rangers searching for Everett man whose car was found

He is believed to be in possession of a firearm and traveling with a small, white Blue Heeler-type dog.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp smiles while greeting supporters at a rally Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Mount Vernon, Wash. Culp, police chief of the town of Republic, Wash., is running against incumbent Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in November. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Culp drops election fraud suit after sanction threats

The lawsuit was withdrawn “with prejudice,” meaning it cannot be refiled.

Most Read