Washington voters want their lawmakers working all year long, poll finds

Washington State Capitol (Laurel Demkovich/Washington State Standard)

Most Washington voters want their lawmakers to be at the Legislature in session during the entire year, according to a new poll from the Northwest Progressive Institute, a non-profit based in Redmond.

Of the 615 voters polled, 59% said they would support changing the Washington Constitution to allow the state House and state Senate to be in regular session year-round. The Constitution currently limits odd-year sessions to 105 days and even-year sessions to 60 days. The Legislature or the governor can call a special session, but those can’t last longer than 30 days.

These session limits might have worked back when they were first put in place, said Andrew Villeneuve, executive director of Northwest Progressive Institute, but now Washington has a much larger population, with much more complex needs.

“We’re now a state of over seven million people,” Villenueve said. “We’re a bustling state. We have a lot of challenges because of our growth and growing pains. So we should have a Legislature that’s meeting year-round to address all those issues, instead of trying to cram all the work into 60-, 105-day sessions.”

While Washington’s 60-day short session is often considered a time crunch, neighboring Oregon has a short session of just 35 days. Some legislatures meet for an even shorter time of about six weeks. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 10 states have legislatures that meet year-round, including Alaska, Hawaii and California.

Villeneuve pointed out that Washington’s lawmakers often spend the interim preparing for the next legislative session anyway.

“Our legislators are already effectively working full time, but they’re not allowed to meet full time, nor are they being paid for their full time work. That needs to change,” he said.

Villeneuve hopes the idea catches on with both parties and said a year-round Legislature could benefit the minority party in particular, as the majority party tends to prioritize its own legislation before cutoff deadlines.

States with year-round legislatures often have breaks to allow legislators to go home and campaign, but lawmakers can generally craft policy on a less hectic schedule. In part-time legislatures like Washington’s, policy can “die” due to tight deadlines to get policy through certain parts of the legislative process.

“Why does [policy] have to die? What’s the point? Right? The only reason that we have the cutoffs now is to manage the chaos of the session, because we’ve imposed these 60- and 105-day constraints,” Villeneuve said.

“But if those constraints go away, then presumably you can also get rid of the cutoff for policy, which means the policy can be considered year-round. There’s not this mad dash,” he added.

by Grace Deng, Washington State Standard

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  1. Must be nice to work 1 day in 7 for the year average with a 6o day session, AND
    1 day in 4 for the average 105 day session.
    Their annual pay for so few days is 3-4 times my annual pay working between 60-70 hours per week. They need to get REALISTIC. 6-8 hours per day for at least 9 months of the year…

  2. I agree they should be working all year. Good article and I as a voting interested citizen would vote yes on that too. Thank you WA state.

  3. I disagree with the premise of this survey. Our state legislators are just not that busy between sessions in Olympia. One of our local Representatives, Strom Peterson, has time to also hold the full-time year-round position of Snohomish County Councilmember.

  4. With the laws our Uber Socialist local legislators are coming up with lately, I think it would be smarter to cut their pay in half and leave the time spent making bad laws right where it is, to limit the damage. As Roger points out one of our local guys has the time and lack of shame to hold down a legislative position at both the state and county levels. This takes the concept of politics as a profession to new heights.

  5. Ok Guys I see your point. I don’t think it is in anyone’s best interest to hold down a state and county legislative position ever! Except the person doing it haha. It seems like a conflict of interest to me. That is a law that should be passed. No double Dippin. For anyone CC members you name it. If one position has potential to influence another position that is not cool and it should no longer be allowed. Now I am talking political in nature. If you are an attorney or an accountant that is ok. I believe the person mentioned that is double dippin is an elected official?? Smelly.

  6. No thank you. The less they work the better off we are. All they know, is tax, regulate, control.

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