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  • Writer's pictureSara Stewart

2023 Legislative Session General Report

The 105-day Washington state legislative session adjourned sine die late in the evening on April 23, 2023, completing its constitutionally mandated timeframe for an odd-year session.

The 2023 legislative session was the first to convene in an all-in-person since the beginning of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions shortly after the adjournment of the 2020 legislative session. Conducting business in person again was well received by many, with the state Lt. Governor noting how important it is to govern in person rather than over Zoom.

State legislative Democrats were essentially energized after their 2022 election wins, where they ended up not losing any Senate seats (29 Democrats – 20 Republicans) and gaining one House seat (58 Democrats – 40 Republicans). These numbers gave Democratic leadership in both chambers significant power to advance and pass legislation, such as cornerstone Democratic priorities around affordable housing, firearms regulation, health care privacy, police reform, etc.

Though, it must be noted that inter-caucus splits became more prevalent with the higher majorities. Depending on the issue, disagreements were drawn between Progressive, Liberal, and Moderates; Seattle/King County and greater Puget Sound; and activist-rooted vs. the old guard.

Overall, 23 percent of the bills introduced this session were passed by the House and the Senate (485) and sent to the Governor for signature.

The Legislature passed a $69.8 billion state operating budget, a $13.4 billion state transportation budget, and an $8.6 billion state capital budget – for a total of $91.8 billion for the biennium, putting Washington state amongst the most significant state budgets in the country.

Quick facts – 2023 session:

• 2122 measures were introduced in the House and Senate since the pre-file period opened on December 4, 2022. • 876 bills or resolutions were introduced in the House of Representatives.• 768 bills or resolutions were introduced in the Senate.

• 270 House Bills or resolutions advanced from the House of Representatives.

• 214 Senate bills or resolutions advanced from the Senate.

Nearly all bills that passed their chamber of origin passed out of the state legislature entirely.

Political Lay of the Land

A major announcement from the House Republican caucus came on sine die; House Republican leader J.T. Wilcox (District 2 – Yelm, R) announced that he would be stepping down after the legislature's adjournment. Representative Drew Stokesbary (District 31 – Auburn, R) was voted in as the House Republican leader.

A potential announcement from incumbent Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of if he will run for an unprecedented fourth term for Governor is being watched out for by the legislative community. It is yet to be confirmed if he will and if any Democrats may attempt to run against him during the primary elections regardless.

Senate budget chair, Senator Christine Rolfes (District 23 – Bainbridge Island, D), threw her hat in as a candidate for appointment to a vacant Kitsap County commission position. She said that she would not run for her Senate seat if she were to be appointed to the county commission seat.

Special Session

In this 2023 legislative session, the legislature took to task to finalize a permanent “fix” to the Washington Supreme Court’s Blake in early 2022. This decision essentially ruled that solely possessing illicit narcotics was not criminal in and of itself and struck down the constitutionality of the state’s existing felony charge for drug possession.

On April 23, Sine Die, and in a historic fashion, the House of Representatives voted down the supposed compromise legislation between House and Senate Democrats 43 Yeas -55 Nays.

With this passage failure and the approaching July 1 deadline before the temporary measure to address the Blake court decision lapses, the state Democratic leadership and the Governor negotiated a renewed compromise. They called for a Special Session, which was held on May 16th. An agreement was made that day and passed both chambers, and was signed by the Governor.

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