Legislature kicks off 2022 session in Olympia

Lawmakers still operating remotely due to COVID restrictions

By Azeb Tuji

WNPA News Service

OLYMPIA — The 2022 session of the Washington State Legislature opened on Jan. 10 with legislators saying they want to help strengthen economic well-being, manage COVID-19 risks, provide help with childcare, housing and mental health support, and mitigate the effects of climate change.

That’s a big slate of issues in which there’s disagreement on both sides of the aisle in Olympia.

But one thing both parties agree on: the state appears to have plenty of money to address real needs, thanks to $1 billion in pandemic relief from the federal government and a booming Washington economy.

Rep. J.T Wilcox, R-Yelm, said he thinks some of that money should be spent improving the state’s transportation system.

“If you care about the rural economy, if you care about the urban economy, understand that we all depend on goods and services that are able to move around the state and around the country,” Wilcox said.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he would support increased transportation spending, especially on measures that lessen transportation impacts on the environment. Inslee proposes a clean fuel standard and a large supplemental budget of $1 billion toward the transportation budget. Reevaluating police reform bills that passed during last year’s session is also important to both parties. In a legislative preview on Jan. 6, Democrats and Republicans said building stronger relationships between the public and the police is a priority this session.

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said she agrees police reform bills can be improved, but she thinks many of the measures are on the right track.

“I’m very happy to have seen data come out this year that says we’re at a five-year low for fatal police encounters,” Jinkins said.

Based on feedback from law enforcement, she said her goal is to bring balance to the bills by providing more clarity when it comes to the use of force.

This year’s Legislature will once again be a primarily virtual affair, with online hearings and testimony. Republicans and Democrats agree a virtual Legislature has its drawbacks, and said they hope for a time when in-person attendance will be possible, but increased COVID-19 counts create the need to prioritize public safety.

“The most important thing about COVID is making sure we’re protecting the health and safety of people and communities in our state,” Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond said.

Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, said she hopes more public access will be possible because she believes with the growing mistrust of government, the spread of misinformation is causing a need for legislators to be more transparent with their constituents.

Jinkins said officials will reevaluate every two weeks and update protocols depending on how the pandemic unfolds.

Citizens can visit the Washington State Legislature website to participate in committee hearings, communicate with legislators or stay informed on the bills being proposed. All this information is online at leg.wa.gov.

The WNPA News Service is produced by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. To learn more, go to wastatejournal.org.