OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington state senators and staff will have to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or submit to regular testing when on campus when the new legislative session starts in January, under a proposal approved by a Senate committee Friday night.
Under the new regulations, senators will conduct their work through a mix of virtual committee meetings and on-site votes. For days when lawmakers are on the chamber floor to vote, daily testing for all senators and staff — regardless of vaccination status — will be required.
The Democratic-majority Senate Facilities and Operations Committee met Friday morning to discuss the COVID-19 protocols for the 60-day session that begins Jan. 10.
Unlike last year, when a limited number of lawmakers were allowed in the Senate chamber during floor votes, under the plan approved by the committee, all 49 senators can attend floor sessions and the two galleries above the floor will once again be open to the public, with a limit of up to 12 people on each side. Masking and public distancing will be required.
A vote on the plan was initially delayed so Republicans on the committee had a chance to present it to their caucus. The final vote was 4-3, with all three Republicans on the committee voting against it.
Under the new rules, Senate committee hearings will remain remote, with public participation. As before the pandemic, hearings and floor votes will continue to be broadcast or live streamed by TVW, the state’s government affairs channel.
The House hasn’t finalized plans for what that chamber will look like, but with double the number of lawmakers compared to the Senate, leaders this week said there is likely to be a hybrid situation of in-person and remote floor votes.
It’s also not yet been decided whether the House will extend into the session an interim rule that took effect in October that requires House members and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to access House facilities.
While the Capitol was closed to the public during the last legislative session, it has been open since July 1 with a requirement for visitors to wear masks while indoors.
Lawmakers are encouraged to hold meetings remotely, but under the new guidelines, in-office meetings will be capped at three people per meeting. Members of the public who meet with senators at their office will not be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative test but will be asked COVID screening questions by Senate security.
Senate officials estimate they will need to spend $100,000 a month to hire private security to assist Senate security with the flow of the public in the Senate office buildings and in and out of the galleries at the Capitol.
Remote work will continue to be encouraged or required for many staffers, including session aides and interns.