OLYMPIA — Absent the public and protected by National Guard troops, the Washington Legislature convened Jan. 11 for a session that Gov. Jay Inslee said will “impact our state for generations.”
Inslee called out 750 guardsman to ring the Legislative Building. A handful of people came at first light and demanded in. They were told firmly and politely to stay behind the yellow police line.
The state patrol reported two arrests by early afternoon. One crossed the police line, and one refused to move a vehicle blocking a road, troopers said.
The police presence came on the first day of a 105-day session. The governor issued a statement saying that after the pandemic was over Washington was “not going back to normal.” He said he looked forward to a “better normal.”
Inslee called for erasing “economic” and “racial disparities.”
“We think of one another as equal because it is one of this nation’s principles, but we can’t be equal until we live as equals,” he said.
Washington Farm Bureau CEO John Stuhlmiller said Jan. 11 the organization was still trying to figure out how to represent their members this session.
In the pre-covid normal, farmers packed hearing rooms for bills most important to them. This year, they will have to testify remotely, hoping for a chance to speak and hoping to stay connected.
“Our members aren’t the ones with high-speed internet. It’s our members who can hardly get on the internet to read documents,” Stuhlmiller said.
“We have to be really smart to have our members get heard,” he said. “The public input to this session is going to be hugely restricted.
“The direct message is that there will be limited opportunity to speak to bills and that will kill us,” Stuhlmiller said.
The House adopted rules Jan. 11 that will be in effect until at least Jan. 29. The rules call for most legislators to participate remotely.
The House chamber was nearly empty for the opening session. In a floor speech, Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, said he takes covid-19 seriously. He had it and spent eight days in the hospital.
But he said constituents are questioning whether meeting remotely will work.
“I don’t want to go to the grocery story, the farm store because they’re going to ask me why we’re doing this,” Dent said. “And I have to agree. I don’t see how it can work.”
Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said Jan. 11 he is apprehensive about the upcoming session.
“The legislative process is no different than farmers talking and making deals,” he said. “It makes me sad we’re not going to have those conversations where we can look at everybody in the eye.”
Dressed in red tie, white shirt and blue suit and carrying an umbrella, Tom Hughes, 30, of Everett was the loudest and most persistent of the people demanding entry to the Legislative Building.
“They’re coming here to have a session and keeping people out of it, and it’s not right,” Hughes said.
Later, he slowly crossed the police line, arms raised, and was arrested for failing to comply with a lawful order. He also will be charged with criminal trespassing in relation to breaching the Governor’s Mansion on Jan. 6, troopers said.
Another protester, Tamara Smilanich, 42, of Seattle, said she comes to the first day of the session every year. She said that this year she won’t have a chance to meet legislators.
“Politics is dirty, but this is really out of control. This is more than dirty,” she said.
Lawmakers will plunge into hearings this week on major bills. The Senate Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on taxing income from capital gains.
Also Thursday, the House Environment and Energy Committee will hold a hearing on a low carbon fuel standard. A hearing on the policy last year drew dozens of log truck drivers to the Capitol.