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Legislature to meet remotely because of pandemic, but not everyone likes the idea

Capitol dome in Olympia in January 2020.
Parker Miles Blohm

The Washington Legislature approved rules to allow lawmakers to meet remotely because of the pandemic. The in-person votes Monday in Olympia happened under tight security with strict COVID-19 protocols in place.

The session opened with a handful of senators allowed on the floor. All socially distanced and wearing masks, they gathered to adopt rules to allow them to legislate remotely going forward.

Majority Democrats like Senate Floor Leader Marko Liias defended the shift to a remote session as difficult but necessary.

“I wish we were not in the middle of a global pandemic but we are, and we have to follow the best guidance that we have from the experts that we have in this state,” Liias said.

Some Minority Republicans, including state Sen. Mike Padden and Sen. Sharon Brown, objected to the rules changes and the fact the Capitol is closed to the public. They wanted to allow the public inside the Capitol with masks and social distancing. 

"What we’re doing today is we are removing that access to democracy,” Brown said.

Padden called for Gov. Jay Inslee to remove emergency fencing that now surrounds the Capitol. In doing so, Padden invoked former President Ronald Reagan: “And I remember on June 12, 1987, he said, 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.' And I say today, Governor Inslee tear down this wall.”

The fence is part of extraordinary security measures taken in the wake of what happened at the U.S. Capitol last week – and concerns that people might try to occupy the state Capitol. Inslee also called up the National Guard. In the end, a couple dozen protesters showed up Monday – some openly carrying military-style rifles.

When it was time to vote, senators filed onto the floor one by one like a march of the penguins.

In the end, majority Democrats prevailed. The Capitol will remain closed to the public. Democrats argued public access will be expanded because people will be able to testify on bills from the comfort of home.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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