What to expect during this year’s legislative session

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January 26, 2021

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The final days of the 2020 legislative session last March presented some real challenges. The Legislature worked diligently to wrap up its session as some of the first cases of COVID-19 in the United States were confirmed in our state. Lawmakers approved all three state budgets (operating, transportation, and capital) along with a $200 million COVID-19 response bill. In those final session days and in the days that would soon follow, the governor began issuing statewide executive orders. One of his earliest orders included a statewide closure of public schools.

At that time, most of us never would have anticipated the full scope of challenges the COVID pandemic would bring to our country and others around the world. Since the end of the 2020 legislative session, we have suffered a loss of life and significant economic impacts, and there has been unprecedented local, state, and federal assistance. Many thanks to our first responders, teachers, health care providers, and others who have stepped up in recent months to continue providing us important services. When the session ended last March, I certainly did not anticipate a nearly year-long pandemic.

Capitol dome and cherry trees

The Washington State Capitol is normally a very busy place during legislative sessions, but it will remain mostly empty in 2021 while House and Senate members work remotely from their legislative districts.

First “virtual” session in state history

For so many of us, our lives have been turned upside down by this virus. Sadly, our region has suffered many unfortunate deaths as well as impacts to businesses, schools, and families. This long-lasting pandemic has also created unprecedented circumstances for the Washington State Legislature. For the first time ever, the 105-day session, which began on January 11, is being conducted primarily online. In recent years, the Legislature implemented limited remote testimony at committee hearings. For this year’s session, remote testimony will likely be the only form of testimony received.

Zoom calls are now commonly used by businesses and organizations. That type of technology – as well as traditional phone calls – has become the new normal for constituent meetings and caucus gatherings. The bigger challenge will be facilitating House and Senate floor debates and navigating the fast-paced nature of floor amendments and contentious discussions. Fewer bills will likely advance this session because of the probable slowdowns in legislative activity. However, fewer bills is probably good news. As our state has grown in population and complexity, it is very challenging to process through and fully understand every aspect of legislation in such high volume and a limited number of days. A more manageable collection of bills may help ensure better final products in what does become law.

Capitol rotunda from above

An elevated view of the state Capitol rotunda, looking down from inside the dome.

State facing a budget challenge

Balancing the state operating budget could be a challenge. As a result of past increased spending and reduced revenue, state economists are forecasting a projected budget deficit of nearly $3 billion. This deficit is much less than what was previously expected but it could grow larger if the state economy is impacted again by recent COVID restrictions. While the current projected deficit is certainly bad news, the $3 billion figure is actually based on a four-year budget projection, impacting a four-year budget equivalent of over $100 billion. By utilizing the state’s $2 billion Budget Stabilization Account – often referred to as the “rainy day fund” – and making some measured and modest reductions in programs, I believe lawmakers can achieve a balanced budget without tax increases.

Legislators will likely agree to the use of our Budget Stabilization Account, but I predict the big fight to be over whether budget reductions – or new taxes – make up the remaining difference. Whether Governor Inslee will be the one to sign our final budget is another issue as well. If he is indeed selected for a position in the Biden administration, then the governor’s duties will temporarily fall to newly elected Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck. This is, of course, until a new governor is elected – likely in November 2021 – in what could very well involve a battle royal of multiple officials to fulfill the remaining three years of Governor Inslee’s four-year term.

Listen to my recent local radio interviews 

Leading up to the legislative session and each week during session, I call our local radio stations to participate in live interviews about the latest happenings in the legislative session. If you'd like to hear my most recent interviews, click on these links for KPQ, KOHO, and KOZI .

Thank you for the opportunity to serve

The current legislative session will certainly prove interesting and challenging. Hopefully, you will experience easy interactions with my office as we have taken steps to ensure that we can serve you effectively, even if staff are all working remotely. If you have questions or comments about state government or the legislative session, please contact me anytime.

I am truly honored to serve as your state senator.



Brad Hawkins

State Senator Brad Hawkins
12th Legislative District
E-mail: brad.hawkins@leg.wa.gov 

Website: senatorbradhawkins.org

107 Newhouse Building - P.O. Box 40412 | Olympia, WA 98504-0412
(360) 786-7622 or Toll-free: (800) 562-6000