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An overview of the legislative process in Washington state

Updated: Jan 5

How do the legislatures in the Mountain States work? To answer this question, we checked with legislative officials in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming. MSPC sent the same questions about the legislative process to each state. Here is the response we received from the Washington Legislative Information Center (LIC). The questions we posed are in italics.

Length of legislative session/special sessionsWhen do regular legislative sessions begin and how long are they scheduled for? How is a special session called and how long can that session run?

Washington LIC: “Session starts the second Monday in January. Long sessions (odd numbered years) are 105 days long, short sessions (even numbered years) are 60 days. Special sessions can be called by the Governor, or the legislature can vote (2/3 majority in both chambers) to bring themselves into special session. Special sessions can last up to 30 days.”

Bill introduction process/restrictions What is the bill introduction process and are there any restrictions on when or how many bills can be introduced?

Washington LIC: “Pre-filing begins the first Monday in December. Bills can be pre-filed until noon the Friday before the session starts and they are all introduced on the first day of session. Bills can continue to be introduced throughout session, though the cutoff calendar indicates what types of bills can no longer be heard after certain dates.”

Note: Bills introduced during the last 10 days of the session require a 2/3 vote to be considered under the state constitution.

Bill reports/fiscal notes Are bill reports and fiscal notes made available publicly before committee/floor action on a bill?

Washington LIC: “If bill reports and fiscal notes exist, they are posted on our public website *usually* days before a hearing.”

Bill/vote tracking Is there a resource available for the public to track legislative action on bills and committee/floor roll calls?

Washington LIC: “We have a bill tracking feature on our website, here: https://app.leg.wa.gov/bi. The public can also look up roll votes from the same page.”

Public hearings Is there a process for the public to receive notification of public hearing agendas? Are there any time requirements for public hearing agendas to be posted before committee action on a bill (5-day notice, etc.)?

Washington LIC: “We have a 5 day rule for the agendas to be posted, the public can also sign up for notification via GovDelivery.”

Waiting periods for actions on bills/amendments Are there any waiting period requirements before action can be taken on bill text or amendments (3-day publicly available first, etc.)?

Washington LIC: “I have not heard of a waiting period.”

Budget votesAre there any waiting period requirements after a budget has been introduced before legislative action can be taken on the proposal?

Washington LIC: “I have not heard of a waiting period.”

Remote testimonyIs remote testimony available for all public hearings? If yes, what are the requirements (sign-in 24hrs before hearing, etc.)?

Washington LIC: “Remote testimony is available; the public has from the time the bill is scheduled until 1 hour before the committee hearing starts to sign up to testify or get their position noted on a bill. They have 24 hours after the hearing begins to submit written testimony on a bill.”

Video live stream/archivesAre committee hearings and floor action live-streamed and archived? If yes, where are these broadcasts available?

Washington LIC: “The hearings are broadcast live, archived by TVW, and often linked on the bill’s information page.”

Bill signing processHow long does the governor have to act on a bill after it is approved by the legislature? Is there a pocket-veto or do approved bills automatically become law after a certain amount of time if the governor doesn’t act?

Washington LIC: “No pocket veto. The Governor generally has 5 days to take action on a bill, Sundays excluded. For bills delivered to the Governor’s desk on the last 5 days of session, the Governor has 20 days (excluding Sundays) to take action on the bill. If the Governor does not sign a bill, it goes into effect without his signature, only a veto stops the bill.”

Veto authorityWhat type of veto authority exists for the governor (line item, etc.)?

Washington LIC: “The Governor can veto whole bills or whole sections of bills, the Governor has line-item veto power only on budgets.”

Veto override process – What is the veto override process for the legislature?

Washington LIC: “The legislature takes a vote to override the veto.”

Right of referendum/initiativeDo citizens have the right of referendum and initiative? If yes, what are the requirements (are there any restrictions)?

Washington LIC: “Yes, the Secretary of State’s election office can speak to the requirements and process. The only exception that I am aware of is for emergency clause bills.”

Additional details about Washington’s legislative process are available in the Legislative Manual. Thank you to the Washington Legislative Information Center for answering our questions.

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