Déjà vu - 2022 legislative session again opens at a nearly empty Capitol

River banner for e-newsletter

January 24, 2022

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Greetings from Olympia, where the Legislature is starting its third week of the 2022 legislative session. The 60-day session began on January 10 and is scheduled to end on March 10.

Since the opening-day ceremonies ended, other senators and I have spent much of our times in committee meetings, holding public hearings on bills that have been introduced this term. We also have had a few Senate floor sessions. After the Senate policy committee (February 3) and fiscal committee (February 7) voting deadlines arrive, senators will spend several hours a day on the floor to debate and vote on bills that survived this first committee stage of session.

Sadly, this is becoming what some might call the “déjà vu” session, or maybe the “Groundhog Day” session, because we are again experiencing the same frustrating situation as in 2021, due to restrictions caused by COVID-19. The Capitol Campus has resembled a ghost town since the gavel fell on opening day. Instead of having all 147 legislators, hundreds of legislative staff members, as well as lobbyists, reporters and everyday citizens inside the Legislative Building or around the campus, there have been only a fraction of the typical legislators and staff on hand, plus a couple of reporters who were allowed to cover the proceedings from the Senate or House galleries. 

Senate floor in 2022 session

An almost-empty Senate floor during the first week of this year’s legislative session.

Back in December, it looked like public access to the 2022 legislative session would be somewhat less restricted than last year’s session. Senate administration was planning to allow a handful of citizens to watch Senate floor sessions from the galleries overlooking the chamber. But that plan failed to happen when majority Democrats on the Senate’s Facilities and Operations Committee voted 4-3 to again prohibit the public from watching Senate floor action from the gallery.

As was the case last year, Senate committee meetings are being held remotely via Zoom or Microsoft teams instead of in person. Once again, citizens are being kept from fully participating in their state government. It’s much more difficult for people to testify remotely from a computer than in person.

And after initially being told late last year that senators could have a few citizens in their offices for meetings, the F&O Committee voted to prohibit in-person meetings in our offices this session. That means any meetings I have with constituents or others has to be done via phone or virtually by Zoom or Teams.

It’s very disappointing for me that people in our state once again are being prevented from having full access to their Legislature.   

A new Senate committee for me this year

As was the case last year, I’m serving on three Senate committees this session, but one is new to me. After serving many years on the Senate Law and Justice Committee, where I put my lengthy experience as a Spokane police officer to good use, I’m no longer on that panel. My new assignment is with the Senate Transportation Committee, which focuses on bills affecting our state’s highways and roads, as well as railroads, ferries and aviation. The committee also helps craft the state transportation budget. I look forward to this committee assignment.

This session I’m again serving as Republican leader on the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. Higher education and workforce development are important issues for many Washingtonians, especially those coming out of high school and looking to enter college or the workforce, so I’m thankful to continue in this role so I can work more effectively on these issues.

Finally, I’m on the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee for the second straight year. In addition to addressing many bills related to COVID-19, this committee very likely will examine legislation that would address the flawed long-term care program that was supposed to go into effect but is being temporarily suspended by Governor Inslee.

Sen. Holy talking with senator on floor in 2022.

This photo shows me talking with another senator on the Senate floor during the first week of session.

Bills I’ve introduced this session

So far, I am prime-sponsoring these bills this session:

Senate Bill 5728, which was requested by the Office of the State Treasurer, would require that the state’s portion of property forfeited under the Controlled Substances Act be deposited in the Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program Account. It received a public hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee on January 18. During my testimony on this bill, I pointed out that funds from drug forfeitures can be quite substantial. This money should be going to a worthy cause. The Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program is a fairly rigorous program that seeks to keep behavioral-health professionals in underserved areas. The money from these forfeitures would be much better served going to this purpose rather than into the general fund.

Senate Bill 5771 would require the Caseload Forecast Council to forecast the number of state residents ages 18 to 44 who do not have a high school diploma or credential, and the number of students expected to enroll in basic education for adult courses at community and technical colleges. The proposal, requested by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, received a public hearing on January 18 in the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.  

Senate Bill 5841 would provide cities and counties with more funding to hire more law-enforcement officers. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a large number of police officers and deputy sheriffs leave their jobs, whether it’s caused by strong opposition to law enforcement by some groups or laws passed by Democrat legislators that make it harder to apprehend criminals. Washington now has fewer law-enforcement officers per capita than any state, and the decrease in officers, combined with the sharp increase in crime, is making communities less safe. Restoring public safety is one of the main priorities for our Senate Republican Caucus this session. This bill would help cities and counties hire more officers and reduce crime. The bill was sent to the Senate Law and Justice Committee but has not been scheduled for a public hearing yet.

Senate Bill 5886 would create an advisory council on rare diseases. It has been referred to the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee. No hearing is scheduled yet.

How to reach me while I’m in Olympia

As was the case last year, many legislators are choosing to work remotely from their homes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – and I’m once again working in my Olympia office. When I’m present in Olympia, I’m best able to monitor legislation, observe activity and best represent the people of the 6th Legislative District. Being here at the Capitol matters to me.

If you need to reach me or my legislative assistant, Will Rasavage, during the session, call our office at 360-786-7610. You can also email me at jeff.holy@leg.wa.gov. I look forward to helping you.

How to testify remotely on bills this session

Even though the Legislature again isn’t allowing committee meetings or public testimony to be held in person, you and other citizens may still have your voice heard on bills by giving remote testimony. Go to www.leg.wa.gov and look for the link, “Accessing the Legislature Remotely.” This will tell how you can testify virtually and provide needed input on bills.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your 6th District state senator.