OLYMPIA – The Washington state House on Thursday released its plan for the upcoming legislative session, announcing a limited number of vaccinated lawmakers will be allowed on the chamber floor and that unvaccinated representatives will need to undergo COVID-19 testing three times a week in order to work in their on-campus offices.
Their plan comes two weeks after the Senate released its own plan on how the 60-day session that begins Jan. 10 will look, and it differs in key ways. In the Senate, there is no vaccination requirement to be on the chamber floor, but daily testing will be required on those days for all 49 senators and staff, regardless of vaccination status.
In the House, which has double the number of lawmakers compared to the Senate, a yet-to-be determined number of lawmakers who have shown proof of vaccination will be allowed on the floor with the others participating remotely. The only staff allowed will be security, those at the rostrum, and those working the technology on the floor. No testing will be required for those on the House floor.
Bernard Dean, the chief clerk of the House, said that the Executive Rules Committee approved the policy on Thursday, with the four Democratic members – Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Reps. Pat Sullivan, Lillian Ortiz-Self and Monica Stonier – voting for it and the three Republican lawmakers – House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox and Reps. Joel Kretz and Paul Harris – opposed.
While the Capitol was closed to the public during the last legislative session, it has been open since July 1 with a requirement for visitors to wear masks while indoors.
A limited number of members of the public will be allowed in both the Senate and House public galleries that overlook the floor, and masking and public distancing will be required. But unlike on the the Senate side, people who want to access the House galleries will either need to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours.
Senate officials estimate they will need to spend $100,000 a month to hire private security to assist Senate security with the flow of the public in the Senate office buildings and in and out of the galleries at the Capitol. Dean said that the House is also looking into options to bring on additional security personnel.
In the Senate, lawmakers can hold in-office meetings that are capped at three people per meeting, and members of the public who meet with senators at their office will not be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative test but will be asked COVID screening questions by Senate security.
The House office building will be closed to the public, and staff are encouraged to work remotely, though those who have provided vaccine verification can work on-site.
An interim rule that took effect in the House in October required House members and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to access House facilities.
Now, in order to access the House office buildings once session starts, those who don’t show proof of vaccination will be required to undergo testing three times a week. Testing services will be offered on-site, and members will have to pay for the test from their expense accounts.
Dean said that there are currently 20 House members who have not verified their vaccination status, but he said in an email that his believed a number of lawmakers plan to do so.
Like the Senate, all House committee hearings will remain remote, with public participation. As before the pandemic, hearings and floor votes will continue to be broadcast or live streamed by TVW, the state’s government affairs channel.
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