Come 5:00 PM on Thursday, February 3rd, the nature of the legislative session will change. This is inevitable as the collective attention of the legislature is reduced from several thousand proposals to only a few hundred bills. At the beginning of session, a legislator could write whatever proposal they wish and submit it for consideration. As the session continues, though, bills still under consideration are supported by at least one legislative committee. This winnowing process separates the legislative wheat from the chaff.
WACD’s legislative strategy also changes as session continues. When bills are newly introduced to a committee, the members of that committee are the first to learn about the proposal. They discover the bill’s supporters and the initial opponents while they contemplate likely outcomes. That is where we operate in the first few weeks of session, interacting only with a few committees. Subsequently, only a few conservation districts might be contacted by WACD staff asking for them to weigh in with their legislators who serve on one particular committee with one particular bill under consideration.
We hone in on local conservation districts because most legislators want to hear only from their constituents, at least in the early part of session. When I worked for the Washington State Legislature, I had the opportunity to work under a number of State Representatives. Indeed, I was the “substitute legislative assistant” to approximately twenty different representatives! Many legislators had me put the emails that were received from “out of district” senders into a separate file; I am uncertain if those emails were ever read by anyone other than me. This makes sense, though, because if you’re a public official elected to represent a certain area, then you likely care first and foremost about the opinions and concerns of your constituents.
That will change as session progresses. Bills will start to come out of their original committees and will be seen by more and more Representatives and Senators. WACD’s targeted communications will expand to eventually include all of our member districts as legislation is voted on by either the House or the Senate.
Budget Discussions Forthcoming
Another way the nature of the legislative session will change is their focus. In the early part of session (either a long 90-day session or a shorter 60-day session), legislators spend most of their time in discussion on potential legislation. Talks about budgets usually kick in halfway through. Before that time, any fiscal conversations are mostly theoretical. This is because everyone waits to see the official revenue forecast that details how much money is predicted will be in the State’s coffers during the next year.
This year, the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council will meet on February 16th. After that meeting, state budget writers will know how much the budget will either need to expand or contract to ensure that government outputs don’t exceed its inputs. Then the work really begins to fit all the pieces together for the state’s operating, capital, and transportation budgets.
Look for WACD to start talking budgets as the legislative process begins to transition to working on the budget.