The Washington State Legislature
About the Legislature
The Washington State Legislature consists of 49 members in the Senate and 98 members in the House of Representatives. Each district is served by one Senator and two House members. Members of the Senate are elected to four-year terms, and House members are elected to two-year terms. To find your district and your legislators, you can use the Legislature’s Find Your District tool.
The citizen Legislature meets annually on the second Monday in January. In odd-numbered years–the budget year–the Legislature meets for 105 days. In even-numbered years, they meet for 60 days. If necessary, the Governor can call legislators in for a special session for a 30-day period. Legislators can call themselves into special session with a two-thirds vote of the two bodies.
The Legislative Process
For a bill to become a law in Washington, it must go through the legislative process, where it is subject to input from legislators, advocates, and everyday citizens.
The process starts with an idea. The idea could come from legislators, or it could be brought to them by constituents, lobbyists, community organizations, or other individuals or groups. This idea can change over time, as the legislator gathers feedback.
The idea is then drafted into a bill, which is given a bill number. You can use a bill number to track a bill’s progress using the Legislature’s Bill Information page.
Then, the bill will be assigned to a standing committee that best fits the bill. The committee chair will assign a day for the bill to go through a public hearing, which is a chance for members of the public to weigh in on the bill. If you do not want to publicly testify, you can also submit written testimony, get your position noted on a bill for the legislative record, or email or call your legislators with your opinion.
The committee chair assigns the date for the bill to be voted on during executive session. During executive session, committee members vote on whether the bill should be moved forward with a “do pass” recommendation, with a “do not pass” recommendation, or with no recommendation. During this process, bills may also be amended. If a bill receives a majority “do pass” recommendation during executive session, it can move onto the next step.
If a bill either generates or costs a significant amount of revenue, it will now need to go to a fiscal committee. Similar to standing committees, the committee chair assigns a public hearing date and an executive session date for the bill.
When a bill passes the standing committee and fiscal committee (if applicable), it then moves to the rules committee. In the rules committee, members of the committee choose bills to “pull” to the floor.
When a legislator pulls a bill from the rules committee, it can be added to the floor calendar for a floor vote before the whole chamber. Bills may also be amended on the floor.
If a bill passes all of these steps, it then moves to the opposite chamber. House of Representative bills move to the Senate, while Senate bills move to the House. The process then repeats: the bill is assigned to a standing committee for public hearing and a vote, moves to a fiscal committee (if applicable), moves to the rules committee, and then is voted on by the whole chamber.
If a bill undergoes amendments between the two chambers, the original chamber must vote to concur with the changes, ask the opposite chamber to recede the amendments, or send the bill to a conference committee. In a conference committee, members from both chamber meet to discuss the differences and produce a conference committee report. Both chambers must then vote to adopt the conference committee report for the bill to pass.
The bill is then sent to the Governor for the Governor’s signature or veto.
For a more comprehensive overview of the legislative process, please see the Legislature’s Overview of the Legislative Process.
Sen. Joe Nguyen has a series of videos on Facebook that break down the legislative process, called Olympia Explained. You can watch the whole series on his Facebook page.
Some videos include: