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WA House drops vaccination requirement for lawmakers on floor

Two women sit on a brown leather sofa. They are wearing masks, but you can tell they are in conversation. A man sits at a desk with his back to them.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, left, talks with Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Kirkland, as they sit near Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, right, during a session on the floor of the House, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, at the Capitol in Olympia.

The Washington state House has dropped its requirement that lawmakers verify they are vaccinated and boosted in order to attend floor votes, and is allowing the public back in one of the galleries overseeing the chamber starting Tuesday.

The update from the House Executive Rules Committee, finalized Saturday, also increases the number of total lawmakers allowed on the House floor from 27 to 45, nearly half of the current chamber’s 98-member capacity. The remainder will continue to vote remotely.

Additionally, the north gallery will reopen to a limited number of members of the public, who must wear a high-quality mask and maintain social distancing. The committee also voted, with the three Republican members opposed, to ban concealed weapons in the gallery, following policy that has been in place in the Senate gallery since 2018.

Openly carried weapons have been banned in both chambers for several years. The House set up a metal detector outside of the north gallery over the weekend, matching a move by the Senate last week.

Unlike the Senate — which welcomed the public back to one of its galleries on Friday — the House won't require people to take a free, on-site COVID-19 test in order to gain access to the gallery.

The public has been allowed in the Capitol since last summer, but the public galleries overlooking the House and Senate chambers had previously been closed to all but credentialed media.

The House will continue its requirement for regular testing of staff and lawmakers to enter House facilities, as the Senate does.

Floor votes in the Senate continue to be mostly conducted in a hybrid format with a majority of the chamber’s 49 members able to participate in-person, and some members participating remotely. A maximum of 30 lawmakers are currently allowed on the Senate floor, 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans. In the House, 26 Democrats and 19 Republicans will be on the floor, starting Tuesday.

The 60-day legislative session ends March 10.

Rachel La Corte covers politics and the Washington state Legislature for The Associated Press.