WA Legislature 101: From state dinosaurs to a new term for ‘inmate’ | Guest column

By Kathy Lambert

Washington state’s legislative session has begun for this year. This will be 105-day session as it requires the writing of a two-year budget known as the biennial budget. Next year, it is only a 60-day session.

There are many important topics before the Legislature each year. It is important that everybody keep informed about the impact on our daily lives from these new regulations. In order to keep informed, there is a good resource for you to know: www.leg.wa.gov. This is a very helpful site. It is important to keep on top of what is happening on a regular basis as things move fast in the legislative process.

Each committee has their agenda and you can link to all of the items that will be before that committee. A shorthand is to look at the bill’s digest. That is like the Cliff’s Notes version of what is in the bill. If you want to read more, then you can read the actual language of the bill.

It is just as important to read what is being stricken out of the existing law as it is to read what is being added. For example, in House Bill 1024, they are changing the name of “inmate” for state prisoners as well as removing the ability to charge people who have the means to pay for their incarceration. This charge has been part of the law and regularly reviewed by the courts as they deal with indigency and fines and restitution.

You may see HB and SB before the numbers of a bill. That means the bill originated in the House or in the Senate. You may also see EHB, which means that the bill has had a significant number of changes since the original bill. So you need to be sure that you are reading the most recent version of the bill.

If you have comments about a bill, you can call 800-562-6000. The 800 number system keeps the tally for all the legislators to see who is calling in on each bill and their message. You can also request that the members of your legislative district respond to you. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, and you may need to have to follow up again with your legislators.

As you read the bills, you can look at the Bill Report. This is usually very informative as it lists the history, the background and the fiscal note of the costs of this particular change. Note that processing each bill costs about $4,000. Keep this in mind as you look at some of the bills coming forward to see if you believe that that bill’s idea is worth $4,000 to our overall good as a community.

As an example, I suggest the proposal to name the state’s official dinosaur may not be the best use of legislative funds, which happens to be your money. There are several bills that may have good intent or be politically correct, but have many potential adverse ramifications. Examples of such proposed bills so far include SB 5174 (“providing adequate and predictable student transportation”) and SB 5237 (“establishing complaint procedures to address noncompliance with certain state education laws”). You get to decide if you agree or not.

Halfway through the session is called “cut off.” That means that all the bills that were in the house of origin now move to the other chamber. This is a very stressful time for many legislators. Also, another term you should be aware of is “dead” — when a person says the bill is dead, that means that it is not going to be processed any further that session. That does not mean it cannot come up again in another form as an amendment to another bill. It may come up in the next session as a carryover.

In addition to the agenda for all the committees, you are able to watch many of the meetings on TVW. This is a very valuable resource because they are not allowed by law to do any editing, so you get to see in real time what members of the Legislature are saying. In addition, you can look up what each member has prime sponsored. That means these are the ideas that they specifically have brought forward and then find other members to sponsor the bill. You’ll find this on the top of each bill below the number of the bill. While not all of these people who are prime sponsors or sponsors of a bill are your legislators, you are able to contact them also, as they may want to know about your support or concerns.

This is our government, and we need to be active participants. As an example, the previous police pursuit bill was not well done because they chose not to get input from a broad array of groups including the sheriffs and your local police association, which would have been a likely group. There have been complications ever since the bill was signed into law. Whether you agree or not, they have had to go and modify this bill now several years in a row, which could have been averted if they had brought a broader range of people at the table to start. Going back to “fix” a bill this many times in a short period of time is not normal. This is a good example of the importance of having and including a broad range of input.

Hope you can be more involved in your government with these tips!

Kathy Lambert is a former member of the King County Council who represented the Snoqualmie Valley. Send comments to editor@valleyrecord.com.