I arrived at the state Capitol just before 7 a.m. Jan. 11. It was the first day of the legislative session, but I had been in Olympia almost a week.
At home, Christmas decorations had barely been taken down before I was filling my car with suits and ties and making my way over the pass.
This year is a “short” session. So, I’m hoping to be back home before spring.
In even-numbered years, like 2016, our sessions are limited to 60 days. Odd-numbered years bring “long” sessions, officially lasting 105 days but more often persisting 30, 60 or – as in last year’s exhausting case – 90 additional days.
During my time in Olympia, I’ve become familiar with the rules and customs of the Legislature. For example, men are required to wear a jacket and tie while in the Senate and House chambers.
During longer legislative sessions, lawmakers write new operating, transportation and capital budgets.
Every two years the Senate and House of Representatives switch off on unveiling the first budget proposal. Last year, it was House’s turn. In 2017, the Senate will go first.
Over the past 20 years there have been some updates to traditions, too. For example, senators were recently allowed to have water in the chamber – provided it is in the mug approved by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, Senate president. It may sound silly, but all of this is a nod to the institution. It is a privilege to serve the people of Washington and it should be treated that way.
One of the biggest changes I’ve seen here at the Capitol wasn’t prompted by legislation or some new rule, but by technology.
When I first arrived here in 1996, my primary contact with folks back home was through phone calls and letters. Testifying on a bill meant traveling to Olympia for the day. Smartphones didn’t exist and many people didn’t have email addresses.
Today my office will receive hundreds of emails. Some are form-letter emails fueled by action alerts and association memberships. Others contain questions regarding potential legislation. And some come from people frustrated with a state agency; they’ve tried to navigate the process and are at their wits’ end.
Those emails come to my legislative office, but thanks to technology I am able to personally reply using my smartphone – often within moments after I receive them. Technology has also enabled our Senate majority to test the use of “remote testimony” during committee hearings.
Last year, people from Spokane and other places far from the Capitol were able to “attend” a committee hearing and testify about legislation via video hook-up, saving them an all-day drive. This year, the number of remote-testimony sites is being expanded.
I anticipate one day this practice will become as routine as answering email.
As a history buff, I enjoy walking through the domed Rotunda in the center of the legislative building, pausing to savor the grandeur of our Capitol while knowing how the tools available to lawmakers are constantly evolving.
While this institution and its traditions should be respected and honored, I welcome innovations that allow more people to actively participate in their own government.
I can understand how people might look at my resume – retired schoolteacher, 22-year legislator – and assume I am anything but a hip, tech-savvy disruptive force. But this year, I will continue to disprove that assumption.
One email at a time.
The original article and can be viewed here.