How to follow and participate in the Washington state Legislature

With the pandemic forcing lawmakers to meet remotely, it’s never been easier to make your voice heard right from home.

The Capitol building in Olympia

The Washington state Legislature is mostly going remote in 2021. Officials have opted to take the safer route of limiting in-person meetings amid the ongoing pandemic. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

A new year brings a new legislative session in Olympia, and we want to make sure you have all the tools and information you need to keep up with lawmakers. 

The 2021 session will be mostly remote, with COVID-19, tax reform and police accountability atop the agenda. An internet connection is all you’ll need to make your voice heard on these and more issues. 

To start, get familiar with our Legislature’s website: leg.wa.gov. Most of the links below will take you somewhere on this site. You can find the status of any bill, committee meeting times and agendas, lawmaker contact information and more. 

If you’re looking to watch the Legislature in action, every committee meeting, floor session, press conference and special event during the session will be broadcast at TVW.org.

How do I testify virtually?

Testifying remotely in the Senate: app.leg.wa.gov/CSIRemote/Senate 

Testifying remotely in the House: app.leg.wa.gov/CSIRemote/House 

Use these links to register to testify on any bill, in any committee. You’ll find specific instructions on the page, but one key thing to remember: Remote testimony registration closes one hour before the hearing’s starting time. 

You have a few ways to share your input. You can submit written testimony, speak on Zoom or testify over the phone. When you register to share your input, you will be given instructions for all three approaches. 

Make sure to note the big bold text on both of these remote testifying webpages: There is no guarantee that those who register to testify will be allowed to speak or be able to speak at specific times.

One other note: No public testimony is taken during floor debates, but scroll down for instructions about how you can reach out to lawmakers directly.

Can I still testify in person? 

The Washington Legislature is going mostly remote this year because of coronavirus restrictions. That means while lawmakers will spend some time meeting in person in small groups, all committee meetings will be remote, so you will not be able to testify in person.

Where can I learn about each bill?

From the homepage of the Legislature’s website you’ll want to click on Bill Information on the left, which will take you to app.leg.wa.gov/billinfo

Here you can search for bills by topic, by sponsor, by date of introduction and, of course, by bill number, if you already know it. All numbers for bills in the House of Representatives start with “HB,” and all numbers for those in the Senate start with “SB.” 

Warning: Bill names and topic descriptions are often cryptic, so you may need to use your detective skills to find a specific bill. The bill numbers are listed on committee agendas, so if you know a bill is going to be heard soon, scan the committee agenda. If you can’t find a bill, call the committee staff listed on the committee page or call your lawmaker’s office for help. They are public employees, which means they work for you and will be glad to help.

Once on a bill’s page, like this one for example, you can see which committee the bill has been referred to, a detailed history of its progress and its current status in the Legislature. You can also click "comment on this bill" on the right to submit written comments to legislators. 

The actual text of the bill isn’t always the best way to gain an understanding of its content and intent, but other documents on this page can help, including the “bill analysis” under “bill reports.” You can also read all of Crosscut’s state politics coverage here

How do I find out about committee meetings?

From the homepage of the Legislature’s website you’ll want to click on Legislative Committees on the left, which will take you to leg.wa.gov/legislature/Pages/CommitteeListing.aspx.

You can find schedules, agendas and documents for House and Senate committees here. On the committee pages, you will find a list of which lawmakers serve on the committee and who staffs the committee and how to reach them. 

How do I find my lawmakers and contact them?

Because of the pandemic, legislators won’t be meeting with constituents in person. But in addition to emails and phone calls, you can also set up a Zoom video call with your lawmaker this year.

You can find every legislator’s contact information to schedule a meeting here: app.leg.wa.gov/MemberEmail/ 

If you have no idea which legislative district you live in and who your lawmakers are — each district has two representatives and one senator — this map and the “district finder” will help.

More questions? Submit them below

About the Authors & Contributors

Mohammed Kloub

Mohammed Kloub (or Moh to most people) is the audience engagement editor at Crosscut.