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State lawmakers resume play on a bipartisan basketball tradition

A group of people in gym clothes play basketball on a court.
Scott Greenstone
/
KNKX
Washington state representatives play basketball with legislative staffers and lobbyists on Feb. 16, 2023.

It's been a stressful week in the state capitol: Friday was policy cutoff, when many bills die in committee. Washington lawmakers deal with stress in lots of ways — karaoke nights, happy hours away from the public eye — but before the pandemic, playing basketball was a popular one.

This year "legislative hoops" returned alongside the hybrid in-person session, and Thursday night was one of the best attended yet.

"It's just a good opportunity for folks to to blow off steam," said Dave Mastin, who started it about a decade ago. He's a former Republican state legislator and now, chief lobbyist for the Association of Washington Business. He still turns out to play, along with lawmakers, staffers and other lobbyists. On this Thursday night, there’s even a capitol security guard.

The highlight was probably when Gov. Jay Inslee came and played years ago. "The boy can shoot," Mastin said.

The pandemic and the last few years have brought with them a lot of infighting between and inside the two parties. So it’s good to have a chance to sweat it out together, and be on the same team.

"It's nonpartisan," Mastin said. "We don't talk about bills."

"But you know what?" said Rep. Julio Cortes, D-Everett, conspiratorially from the sidelines. "If an extra elbow goes out, you never know what's going on behind the scenes."

Cortes laughed. "No, everybody's actually really good. Everybody's in good spirits. I think everybody appreciates having this outlet, you know? Especially on weeks like this week."

Most of these legislators got their priority bills out of committee in time for cutoff. Cortes got across a bill providing services to homeless and runaway youth in under the wire on Wednesday.

Bills that didn’t make it past the half-court line: a Republican effort to repeal the state’s long-term care payroll tax, and a bill that would designate a state cactus for Washington. Still in play: bills on housing, gun control and amending the state’s constitution around abortion rights.

But in the March madness ahead these bills will have to get through plenty of other hoops — rules and fiscal committees, the House and Senate floors.

Scott Greenstone started off working at his community college newspaper before interning at NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered and covering homelessness for The Seattle Times. He co-produced the “Outsiders” podcast with KNKX, which was named one of TIME’s top 10 podcasts of 2020.
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