Washington Retail has joined in signing a Council of Washington Business Organizations letter expressing significant concerns for the proposed remote 105-day Legislative session scheduled to commence on Monday.
The letter addresses the many challenges of a remote only session and provides several recommendations the Legislature should consider in order to compensate for limitations that would prohibit in-person involvement by the public and other interested parties. Currently the Senate and House plans call for the capitol campus to be closed to the public, a majority of legislators and their staffs and for meetings to be televised and available on-line.
We recognize and support efforts to provide for the safety of the public, legislators and their staffs in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19. But Washington State’s contingency plans for the session may be the strictest in the nation and nearly quarantine the public out of the legislative process.
For example, Oregon, Idaho and California have no plans for remote-only legislative sessions. The business coalition has been hard pressed to find any other state legislature whose meeting plans are as restrictive for meaningful public involvement.
Our letter outlines eight ways to improve the proposed process:
- Increasing the length of time required for notice when bills move through various stages of action to 48 hours
- Scheduling regular breaks/pauses between hearings and during floor action to encourage availability to the public
- Requiring legislators be on camera throughout all proceedings, rather allowing them to attend with their cameras off
- Expanding the virtual meeting view so all legislators are on camera when they are participating
- Posting testimony online in an accessible and timely manner
- Publicizing contingency plans in case of technical breakdowns
- Identifying the plan to return to normal operations as infection cases decline
- Rescheduling divisive issues that require more time for the 2022 legislative session.
Meaningful public participation is the bedrock of our democratic process. The foundation of meaningful public participation is the opportunity to share information and to do it in a timely manner. One without the other is meaningless. It is, quite simply, the public’s business.
We urge that these and other creative solutions will be incorporated into the 2021 legislative process.