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Spin Control: The Legislature is back in person, but here’s how you can still follow from afar
Sun., Jan. 15, 2023
OLYMPIA – The opening day of the 2023 legislative session had a feeling of that first day of school after summer vacation as lawmakers returned in person to deal with the problems of the state – or as some will no doubt claim by the end of the session, exacerbate them.
The Legislature met “virtually” for two years, meaning many members were on screen rather than in person for committee hearings, debates and votes. Absent an outbreak of COVID-19, we will likely be spared any more instances of a chairman saying “Senator, you’re still on mute. Senator, you’re muted. Senator? SENATOR!”
But a return to the way the Legislature operated before 2021 doesn’t mean Spokane residents have to make the 300-mile journey to Olympia to find out what lawmakers are up to. Much of what legislative watchers used for the last two years to keep tabs on those virtual sessions works just as well now. Here are Spin Control’s guide for monitoring the Legislature from afar, 2023 edition:
The best place to start is the Legislature’s own website, leg.wa.gov, which is the entry point to information on bills, committee hearings and floor activity. It can also help you connect with your legislators. Almost all of that information is a few clicks away from that home page, but there are so many links on that page that here are a few shortcuts you might want to bookmark.
Want to look up a bill by number? Go to the Bill Information page and enter the number. It will give you the bill, its sponsor, the text and its status. If you don’t know the number but know its sponsor, there’s a “Bills By Sponsor” link on that page.
Don’t know the number or sponsor but know the topic? Click on the “Search the full text of a bill” button, which takes you to a search engine that combs through every bill that’s been filed to date, but be sure to signify what kind of legislation, or just click the “All Bills, Memorials and Resolutions” box. There can be multiple bills on a topic; they may be the same or very similar, or they could be conflicting.
Want to tell your legislator your thoughts on an issue or a bill? You can go to the website’s list for House members or Senate members to look that up by their name or district. Those pages have an Olympia mailing address and an office phone number. If you don’t know either the name or district number, you can go to the district finder and enter your address.
Armed with that information, you can send an email to your legislators. You can actually send an email to any or all of them, but to be honest, most only pay attention to contacts from their own constituents.
Interested in legislation? On any given day, the Legislature can hold more than a dozen committee hearings on one or more bills. The committee schedules that day are listed on the home page, with links to the proposed agendas. It’s possible to see the schedules and agendas for the coming days, as well, but remember that schedules can change, so it’s good to double check the committee schedules on the day of the actual hearing. You can also request a daily or weekly email update of hearings for a specific committee, a specific chamber of the Legislature, or all committees from the House and the Senate. A word of warning, however: Asking for everything can overload your inbox. Thousands of bills will be introduced this session, and hundreds will get hearings, but only a fraction of those will come up for a vote. If you are only interested in a specific bill, you can sign up for an email notification on the page for that bill.
Although the legislators will be in Olympia for the meetings, many committees will take remote testimony on some bills, which will be noted at the bottom of that day’s schedule (follow the sign-in instructions). Controversial bills often generate a long list of people wanting to testify, and whether you want to speak remotely or in person, there’s no guarantee you’ll be called on just because you sign up.
Want to watch a hearing from afar? You can do that on the cable television network TVW – Channel 25 on Spokane’s Comcast system – or online with TVW.org. The cable channel can only show one hearing or debate at a time, and some days there can be as many as nine hearings happening simultaneously. The website shows each event live, and records them in the archives, where they are available a few hours after they end.
Don’t want to follow things that closely but still interested? The Spokesman-Review is among only a handful of newspapers with a full-time reporter in Olympia, and this year Laurel Demkovich will be joined by Elena Perry, a reporting intern from Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communications.
The Olympia press corps has shrunk in recent years, but reporters who cover the Legislature often post their stories on Twitter with the #WaLeg hashtag.
There are some good online options, including Crosscut and Axios, which both pay attention to state government and politics, and Pluribus, a new website that keeps track of similar issues and developments in all 50 states for those who are interested in a broader view of issues. All three have some reporters familiar to people who have followed legislative news in recent years.
Conservative and liberal groups keep track of what they consider key legislation, so if you’re a member, check their websites.