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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Washington state Senate approves hybrid model for upcoming legislative session

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 5, 2021

State Rep. Jim Walsh R-Aberdeen, is displayed on video monitors as he speaks remotely during a session of the House on April 21, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. The 2022 legislative session will likely be a similar hybrid model.  (Ted S. Warren/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
State Rep. Jim Walsh R-Aberdeen, is displayed on video monitors as he speaks remotely during a session of the House on April 21, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. The 2022 legislative session will likely be a similar hybrid model. (Ted S. Warren/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Washington State Senate will move into a hybrid mode for the 2022 legislative session with in-person floor action and remote committee days, an attempt to lessen the risk for COVID-19.

Vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test will be required for members and staff.

The final plan for the 2022 session was approved in a Senate facilities and operations committee meeting Friday. The plan passed 4-3 on a party line vote.

The goal of the Senate’s plan is to allow for “as much open access as possible,” Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, told reporters Thursday.

During non-floor action days, Senate members and staff will have to prove their vaccination status through either a secure portal or by showing their card over Teams.

Those who are not confirmed as vaccinated will need to test on campus.

During floor action days, daily testing would be done for all Senate members and staff who are on the floor.

Testing will be offered through a private contractor, but how much it would cost the Senate was not available Friday.

Staff said it would likely require two nurses each testing day, and each test costs about $40.

Members who test positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms are required to quarantine. They will have a remote voting option, but they will not have the ability to participate in floor speeches.

Staff would also mostly work remotely throughout the session.

Republicans had concerns with public access to committee meetings, which will remain remote this upcoming session. Members of the public can sign up to testify virtually.

Last session saw a record number of people testifying, given the amount of remote access provided.

Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, acknowledged the benefits of remote committee hearings but had concerns that not every chair treats the testifying process the same. Some only allow 20 seconds of testimony from each member of the public and mute them afterward, which Braun said isn’t always helpful.

He suggested creating a best-practices document that committee chairs can follow as they deal with virtual committee hearings.

Billig said they can look into creating that document, but chairs should have some flexibility in real time.

The public can observe floor action in person from the Senate gallery, but only 12 people will be allowed on either side at one time.

Billig told reporters lawmakers were working to have “as much open access as possible.”

As the Capitol opens up again to the public, the Senate approved hiring private security to assist its own security with management and the flow of the public in and out of galleries. It will cost about $100,000 a month.

Masks will be required in all indoor spaces, and social distancing is required as much as possible.

The new guidance only applies to the Senate. The State House of Representatives is still finalizing their plans, but House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, told reporters it will likely be a virtual plan.

Because there are so many more members of the House than in the Senate, floor debates would likely be a mix of members in person and remote, similar to last year.

“My goal is to get as many people on the floor as we can get safely,” Jinkins said.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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