OLYMPIA — Washington state’s first female speaker of the House was sworn when lawmakers returned to the Capitol to convene their 60-day legislative session.
Democratic Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma is also the first gay lawmaker to take the role presiding over the chamber. She succeeds Frank Chopp, the state’s longest-serving speaker and the second longest serving speaker in the nation. Chopp, who is still a member of the Legislature, announced he was stepping down from his leadership position last year after serving in the role for more than two decades.
Jinkins and more than a dozen other lawmakers were wearing white Monday in honor of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. She said the fact a lesbian woman is now holding the House gavel is another broken barrier, “but it won’t be the last.”
“Today represents another step toward inclusion, toward more seats at the table,” she said.
Washington is now the eighth state to have a woman in the top spot in the House and the second state to have a gay speaker of the House, joining Oregon.
Leaders in the House and Senate this year are tasked with writing a supplemental budget to make changes to the current two-year state budget. They will release their supplemental budget plans in the coming weeks and will work to negotiate a final budget before the session concludes mid-March.
Democrats hold a 28-21 majority in the Senate and a 57-41 edge in the House.
Jinkins said that she visited nearly every member of the House — both Democrat and Republican — in the previous weeks.
“These visits made me really optimistic about what we can accomplish together,” she said. “The title of my role might be Speaker, but as I view it, my primary job is to listen. I promise to listen to every one of you, even when we disagree.”
House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said that Jinkins “represents a new era in the House.”
“We’re the minority. That means we don’t get to win a lot of things,” he said. “Our number one job is to speak in debate. And we can help you do your job and you can help us do our job when you and all of your colleagues are the best possible listeners.
Lawmakers in both parties have said that addressing homelessness will be a priority this year. About 10,000 people in the state are without shelter, and more than 11,000 live in temporary homeless housing, according to the most recent annual report from the state Department of Commerce.
Another issue lawmakers are facing is transportation funding following an initiative that lowered annual vehicle registration costs but is currently on hold pending a legal challenge. A few dozen protesters gathered outside the Capitol Monday calling on lawmakers to pass legislation to uphold the ballot measure.
Meanwhile, embattled Republican Rep. Matt Shea returned to the Capitol on Monday amid calls for his resignation following in the wake of a December report that found he was involved in anti-government activities. Shea has refused to resign, even as House Republicans moved quickly to suspend him from the state House Republican Caucus. He has been removed from his House committee assignments, his seat on the House floor was moved to the back of the chamber and he can’t use House Republican staff.
Jinkins has said that Shea should be expelled by the House if he does not resign but noted that Democrats alone cannot expel Shea and would need the votes of nine Republicans to reach a two-thirds majority. Wilcox, the Republican leader, has said he believes it is up to the voters of Shea’s Spokane Valley district to decide whether to kick him out.