Elections Are Over: What Will the Legislature Look Like in 2021?

Elections Are Over: What Will the Legislature Look Like in 2021?

By Mike Schwisow, Government Relations Director, Columbia Basin Development League

The League can expect to see little change in Washington State government following the 2020 elections. While polling indicated the possibility of a blue wave, it never materialized. Most Washington legislative districts are very predictably Republican or Democratic with a handful of swing districts where the battle for seats occurs and candidates gather large amounts of campaign contributions.

This election was no exception to that.

The House of Representatives maintained a 57-41 Democratic majority with the R’s and D’s exchanging a seat each. In the 19th District in southwest Washington, Democrat Brian Blake, the long-time chairman of the House Rural Development, Ag & Natural Resources Committee lost his seat in a district that has been trending Republican. Republican Luanne Van Werven from Lynden in the 42nd District lost her seat in a district trending Democratic.

The Democrats maintain a significant majority and will set the agenda for the House.

The story in the Senate was similar. Each side lost a seat, or each side won a seat depending on how you look at it, but in the end the Democrats maintain a 28-21 majority. Again, the trending 19th District came into play where long-serving Senator Dean Takko lost his seat and gave the state GOP a sweep of the District’s legislative delegation.

Republican’s Steve O’Ban lost his seat in the 28th District, (University Place in Pierce County.) That District now has all Democratic legislators. Although the majorities of the House and Senate will remain the same, some radical changes loom for the 2021 Legislation Session, due to the COVID pandemic: The Legislature will hold its first virtual session.

Conducting a Legislative Session is a complex operation involving people traveling to Olympia from all over the state, meeting with legislators and testifying at hearings. Hundreds of staffers support the operations to make it all run smoothly.

It’s a very procedural type of operation, set in tradition and very structured. This time around, everything will be virtual, which will be unusual for all involved. Legislative administrators have been doing trial runs conducting hearings, floor debates and votes on bills. Many legislators from rural areas of the state worry about having adequate broadband capacity to participate.

Several have indicated they will come to Olympia and participate from their offices in the House and Senate Office Buildings. The simple logistics of trying to conduct business virtually will be a challenge and it will not be possible to take up everything the Legislature would in a regular session.

Leadership in the House and Senate has advised their members to consider only a limited number of bills this session. This is the year that the Operating Budget is written, so that is a given. The effects of the pandemic have left a big hole in funds available for the 2021-23 biennium. Altogether, these changes lead many to predict that this will be a session like no one has ever seen before.

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