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Senate approves rules for legislative session

by ANGELICA RELENTE
| January 12, 2021 1:00 AM

Members of the state Senate on Monday approved the permanent and emergency rules to convene remotely during the first day of the legislative session at the Washington State Capitol Building.

Republican Floor Leader Shelly Short, R-Addy, voiced support for an amendment to the emergency rules, calling for in-person testimony. Constituents from different districts are concerned with not being able to fully participate during the session, she said.

“I believe that we can figure out a way to do things in the safest and best way, to allow the most full public participation in the measure in which they choose suits them best,” Short said.

But Majority Floor Leader Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, said after consulting with public health leaders, it is clear it is unsafe for the public to be at the Capitol and for members of the legislature to meet in-person.

“While I mourn the changes we have to make, I think none of us want to be in this place,” Liias said. “I wish we were not in the middle of a global pandemic, but we are, and we have to follow the best guidance we have from the experts that we have in this state.”

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he does not want to do anything that would place people in harm’s way, but sometimes, there can be overkill. People are prohibited from gathering on the steps of the Capitol because of the 8-foot fence surrounding it.

“I am a very strong admirer of President Ronald Reagan,” Padden said. “I remember on June 12, 1987, he said, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,’ and I say today — Governor Inslee, tear down this wall.”

Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said there are ways to allow access to the Capitol. If people can shop at big-box or small retail stores, the public should be able to enter the Capitol as well, he said.

Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said safety for the senators and the public is a big priority. Public health experts have said the legislature must limit their time together in large groups. Working remotely also offers more opportunities for transparency.

“I’m not saying that this is my preferred way of doing it, but as we’re talking about transparency and access, there is going to be equal, or even in some cases, increased transparency and access,” Billig said.

Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, said although the public can watch the session remotely, it does not compare to the experience of being in-person. A way to make some type of accommodation is to have members of the public testify periodically or in small groups.

“Has anybody here ever gone to a rock concert live? And then watched it on TV? It’s not the same,” Fortunato said. “That participation by the public is not the same remotely.”