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By Joseph Claypoole
Washington State Journal 

Increased participation might be 'silver lining' in online state legislative session

 

Last updated 2/3/2021 at 12:02pm



This might be the most accessible Legislative session in history, thanks to online tools provided by the state.

McKenna Troje, 22, a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle, participated in a one-person experiment this weekend to see how difficult registering to testify remotely on a bill would be during this year’s session, which launches Monday and will be run mostly online in accordance with the state’s COVID-19 public health guidelines.

“That was pretty easy,” Troje said.

Troje hasn’t attended a committee hearing before nor has she ever visited the state Legislature’s leg.wa.gov website. So she started by Googling how to testify on Washington legislation.

The first result took her to a page on the Legislature’s website that provides detailed instructions on what to do before, during, and after testimony, as well as what participants can expect when joining online.

Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Kirkland, said that a bonus to this year’s remote session might be that a larger number of residents from all over the state will participate in the lawmaking process.

“It [remote testimony] has enabled us to enhance openness, access, and transparency,” Kloba said. “Not only will this make participation more equitable for those who cannot take a day off of work but also for Washingtonians who live farther from Olympia.”

Lawmakers at a press event on Thursday said they’ve been holding practice sessions for weeks on how best to conduct routine legislative activity online, working out kinks and establishing best practices in running committee hearings and floor debates and votes in the House and Senate.

Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, celebrated opportunities that the online session might provide.

“You can see live, exactly what’s happening at all times,” Nguyen said, pointing to the real time TVW broadcast that will stream on cable and online.

If you can watch Youtube, he said, you can watch -- and participate in -- the legislative session.

It’s unclear, however, exactly how commonplace but unofficial legislative activity might play out, including the quiet exchanges and sidetalk among lawmakers that can shift a vote or the way lobbyists in hushed hallway conversations make their cases. Those kinds of interactions may well become even less visible to the public this year.

Lawmakers this year plan to take up contentious issues like COVID-19 relief, affordable housing and reforming the governor’s emergency powers while juggling the hurdles and obstacles that the online session is sure to provide.

More information on how to provide testimony or just watch hearings can be found at https://leg.wa.gov/legislature/Pages/Testify.aspx.

 
 

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