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Washington House releases remote legislative session plan

By Rachel La Corte Associated Press

OLYMPIA – The Washington state House on Friday released its plan for the upcoming legislative session, with opening ceremonies held at a nearby private university in order to abide by coronavirus restrictions, but with the rest of the work done remotely.

Their plan comes more than a month after the Senate released its plan to do the work of the 105-day session that begins Jan. 11 through a mix of virtual meetings and limited on-site votes.

The House plan notes that the chamber “is committed to doing the people’s work while adhering to public health guidance to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 during the ongoing pandemic.”

The House will require an in-person quorum to vote on House rules, and that vote will be held at the pavilion at Saint Martin’s University in nearby Lacey. Members will be sworn in and sign their oath of office during those proceedings. Credentialed media is allowed to attend, but the event will be closed to the public and be broadcast live by TVW, the state’s government affairs channel.

Under the plan approved by the Senate last month, 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.

In the Senate, 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 session if necessary. In the House, after opening day, all committee meetings and floor votes will be conducted remotely and streamed online or broadcast via TVW. The only people permitted on the House floor will be presiding officers, the minority leader and caucus floor leaders. The Capitol building will remain closed to the public and lobbyists, and a limited number of credentialed press will be allowed to observe from the House and Senate galleries.

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 6 feet. Senate employees will continue to telework as much as possible, although some staff may work on site on a limited basis to manage committee hearings and other tasks.

As of this week, there have been more than 192,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington since the pandemic began, and 2,850 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.