State House returns to fully remote session amid COVID-19 spike

OLYMPIA — In response to an increase of COVID-19 cases across the state, the state House of Representatives has released an updated plan for next week’s start of the 60-day legislative session that reverts to remote floor votes instead of an initial plan that would have allowed more lawmakers in the chamber.

When the session starts Jan. 10, two lawmakers from each caucus and the presiding officer will be allowed on the floor, two more members than were allowed last year, but fewer than an original plan released in November anticipated.

All must show proof of vaccination, and the updated plan requires any lawmaker or staffer on the floor to also verify that they have received a booster.

All lawmakers and staff who work onsite will need to be tested three days a week, with the House covering the cost.

Bernard Dean, the chief clerk of the House, said Monday the Executive Rules Committee approved the policy on Friday, with the four Democratic members — Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Reps. Pat Sullivan, Lillian Ortiz-Self and Monica Stonier — voting for it and the three Republican lawmakers — House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox and Reps. Joel Kretz and Paul Harris — opposed.

The public gallery overlooking the chamber will initially be closed to the public, and it will be limited to credentialed press who have verified their vaccination status.

As before, all committee hearings in both the House and Senate will be held remotely, with public participation.

The House will re-evaluate chamber operations every two weeks, and the number of lawmakers on the floor may increase in the future, the updated plan notes, based on the status of the ongoing pandemic.

As of last week, the state had a total of 849,075 cases since the start of the pandemic and 9,853 deaths.

Last Thursday, the state Department of Health reported 6,888 new cases, the highest number of new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.

Due to the holiday, no updates were posted Friday or over the weekend.

A spokesman for Senate Democrats said Monday that the Senate is also looking at revising its 2022 session plan — which had planned to allow all 49 senators on the floor, with a testing requirement — and instead return to the hybrid, mostly remote option that chamber used last year.

Any change to the Senate plan would need to be finalized by the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee.

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A lone worker walks on the floor of the state Senate last Thursday at the Capitol in Olympia as the room was being prepared for the start of the 2022 legislative session, which opened Monday. The new session will look much like the one a year ago: a limited number of lawmakers on site at the Capitol, and committee hearings being fully remote due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)
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