OLYMPIA — State lawmakers return to the Capitol this week for hearings on a wide range of issues they expect to debate in the 2023 session.
And for the first time in three years, nearly all of them will be conducted in-person with an option for the public to participate remotely.
The annual assemblage is known as Committee Days. As the name implies, each House and Senate committee, plus panels with members from both chambers, gather to learn what has occurred since the last session and what lies in the next session that begins Jan. 9.
“It’s like our professional development days,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo. “We need to get the most up-to-date information on those subjects members are interested in and more than likely going to be diving into in the next session or two.”
Crime rates, carbon pricing, abortion access and affordable housing are among topics for discussion. So too are staffing challenges for Washington State Ferries and early learning centers. And there will be updates on drought, wildfires and building of behavioral health facilities.
In all, 39 hearings are planned from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2.
Ortiz-Self, who was re-elected this week as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said members are looking forward to conducting business in person this week and the upcoming session. That hasn’t occurred since the end of the 2020 session.
“There was such an excitement to get back together, to see one another and to begin working together again,” she said.
All House members will be encouraged to stay home and participate remotely if they come down with COVID or a potentially contagious illness like a cold or flu, she said.
“We want to be in person,” she said. “We want to keep everyone safe too.”
In the hearings, public safety will be a subject of several conversations.
The Senate Law and Justice Committee will hold a work session at 8 a.m. Thursday on the state’s response to the Blake decision, the state Supreme Court’s 2021 ruling that erased a law making simple drug possession a felony. Lawmakers last session resisted rewriting the law to restore criminal penalties. Instead the Democrats in the majority approved a bill that effectively decriminalized possession of small amounts of most drugs. Some of those changes will expire in 2023 unless lawmakers take more action.
That decision erased convictions for tens of thousands of people. Many are owed refunds for fines they may have paid. On Friday, the House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee will get an update on the refund process. It will also get a progress report on deployment of a statewide Firearms Background Check program.
Meanwhile, current crime trends in the state and nation will be explored by the House Public Safety Committee on Friday.
The hearing at 8 a.m. will kick off with a presentation from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, which issued a report earlier this year that found the number of murders, robberies, serious assaults and other violent crimes rose significantly in the state in 2021.
Then lawmakers will hear from Richard Rosenfeld, professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri, and Ames Grawert, senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice. Both are nationally known experts on the prevalence of crime and crime rates.
“I think it’s important to get beyond the headlines and see what is really going on,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, the committee chair.
Access to reproductive health care services on college campuses will be reviewed by the Senate higher education panel at 8 a.m. Thursday.
Later, at 3:30 p.m., the Senate Transportation Committee gets updates on state ferries and how inflation is affecting the cost of transportation projects.
And Friday, the House and Senate environment committees get caught up on the climate commitment act, including the state’s inaugural auction of carbon emission allowances in February, and other legislative efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The House hearing is at 8 a.m. and the Senate at 10:30 a.m.
The full schedule, including agendas, can be found on the Legislature’s website, leg.wa.gov.