After nearly two years of conducting their work virtually, members of the Washington state Legislature, staff, and advocates returned to Olympia on Monday to begin the 2023 Legislative Session in person. By the end of the day Monday, it was clear that many of us were out of practice and were having to re-learn the skills of navigating the marble halls, sitting in hearings, and delivering the two-minute elevator speech. The Legislature has moved to a hybrid model, meaning that members of the public may still testify on bills remotely and hold meetings with their elected officials virtually. Even the skeptics of this new model were pleasantly surprised to see how quickly everyone is adapting.
The 2023 Legislative Session is a “long” one, set by our state constitution to last for 105 days, beginning January 9 and ending April 23rd – the Legislature doesn’t recognize weekends or holidays, so it is 105 days straight. Democrats held on to the majority (and even were able to pick up a few seats this last election) in both chambers. The House elected a new Majority Leader, Representative Joe Fitzgibbons (D-34), who replaced retired Representative Pat Sullivan. Over twenty newly-elected legislators were sworn in this week. With this many new members, there will definitely be a learning curve in the caucuses. When you factor in that the new members who were elected in 2021 have never experienced an in-person session, it feels like the first few days of high school for many.
In 105 days, the 2023 Legislature will pass a biennial operating budget as well as both a transportation and capital budget. While revenues in Washington continue to be holding steady, the expectation is that fiscal leaders will be careful with their spending as there continues to be concern about what future revenue forecasts might reveal. The next revenue forecast will be released in March 2023. This week, the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways & Means Committee both held hearings on Governor Inslee’s proposed budget. The Governor’s budget will be the blueprint that the legislative fiscal committees will be using to build their own budget proposals. The budget hearings are long but important, as advocates from around the state urge fiscal committee members to support their budget priorities. Legislators and staff hear from individuals supporting programs ranging from natural resources to education.
Bills continue to be dropped daily, but with a long session, it isn’t the deluge that we experience during the rapid short sessions (60-day supplemental budget years). The first legislative cutoff with the house of origin policy committee is on February 17th, followed quickly by the house of origin fiscal committee on February 24th. These cutoffs mean that all bills need to be heard, discussed, and voted on by the committees and sent to the Rules Committee to continue to be considered for further action. See the 2023 Cutoff Calendar here.
The House Education Committee held a series of work sessions this week providing in-depth overviews of our K-12 system, including a look at the effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on student outcomes and services. The Legislature is prioritizing additional investments in special education funding and services this session. We can also expect policy bills regarding the implementation and expansion of social-emotional learning and behavioral health supports.
This week League of Education Voters testified on Senate Bill 5019 – Concerning Classified Staff Providing Student and Staff Safety, sponsored by Senator Lisa Wellman (D-41). Last session, the Legislature heard and passed House Bill 1664, a bill that increased the funding for physical, social, and emotional support in our schools. Advocates celebrated the passing of HB 1664 as they felt it was a strong step in supporting the health and well-being of our students. Unfortunately, through the rulemaking process, it was discovered that schools would also be able to use this funding for uniformed school resource officers (SROs). SROs do not provide mental health support to students, and in many cases they cause harm, especially to students of color. SB 5019 limits the use of funding to not include the hiring or support of SROs. We expect to see language clarifying that schools can continue to use this funding to hire classified healthcare professionals and support staff, which LEV supports.
After a week of adjusting to being back in person in Olympia, next week should be a busy one for League of Education Voters.
Follow which education-related bills we are watching in our Bill Tracker.