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OPINION

2022 session to feature remote committee meetings–again

 

November 18, 2021



By Sen. Mark Schoesler

Last Friday, Secretary of the Senate Brad Hendrickson sent an email to all senators and Senate staff to announce how the Senate will conduct the 2022 legislative session after the Senate’s Facilities and Operations Committee voted along party lines, 4-3, to approve the 2022 session plan. All three Republican senators on the F&O committee voted against this plan.

Unfortunately, the public once again will be prevented from attending Senate committee meetings in person, as committee meetings will be held virtually. Banning the public from legislative hearings violates principles promoting transparency and open government. If the upcoming Senate committee meetings are anything like last year’s, people wanting to testify will have to do so via Zoom and likely will be given less time to speak than normal.

As for senators, we will be allowed to debate and vote on the Senate floor if we show proof, we’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine and if we undergo daily COVID-19 testing and the tests are negative. But senators won’t be permitted to give floor speeches remotely. This is troubling. If a senator who isn’t vaccinated decides to quarantine to protect others, that member should be allowed to speak on bills during floor debate. During Senate floor debates last session, remote speeches were given by many senators. I think all legislators want to conduct session business in a safe manner. Banning remote floor speeches seems a bit ridiculous.

Here are some of the main points that the secretary of the Senate shared regarding how the Senate will conduct its business next session:

• Members and Senate staff who wish to present to campus must provide proof of vaccination for the COVID-19 virus, or must otherwise submit to regular testing.

• On-site, daily testing will be required for all members and staff presenting to the floor on floor action days regardless of vaccine status.

• Floor sessions will be conducted in person with all members and some critical staff. Members of the public may observe via the galleries, in accordance with strict social distancing.

• Committee hearings and executive sessions will be conducted remotely for members, employees, and the public.

• All members and Senate employees are encouraged to continue teleworking as much as possible.

• Interns will work remotely, and the Senate Page Program will be suspended for the 2022 session.

• Members are encouraged to conduct all meetings with members of the public remotely. In-person meetings in member offices will be capped at three members of the public per meeting, exclusive of members and any staff. Member offices may enact stricter guidelines than those set by Senate Administration.

–Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-9, Ritzville

 
 

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