For the first time in recent memory, the Washington State Legislature essentially closed for business on Monday, February 11 when roughly a foot of snow blanketed the capital. Hearings were canceled and bills were added to already long agendas for other hearings.
Fewer bills were introduced this week as well. Whether that is a result of the weather or the fact that the first policy committee cutoff is a week away or a combination of both remains to be seen. Regardless, the need to review new bills diminished considerably this week, allowing WSAC staff to focus on existing bills.
The legislative session has a series of deadlines or “cutoffs” that mark target dates at which bills must have passed through various committees, hearings, and floor action. The first cutoff is Friday, February 22, the 40th day of this legislative session. Bills must be passed out of their house of origin policy committee by that date or they are considered “dead.”
Of course, nothing is ever truly dead until the legislature adjourns sine die, so all relevant bills will stay on our watch list. In particular, bills can be deemed “necessary to implement the budget” or NTIB and resurrected as a part of the budgeting process.
If bills will cost money to implement, then they must also pass out of a fiscal committee in order to stay alive. The first fiscal cutoff is just one week after the policy committee cutoff on Friday, March 1. By that time, all bills must be out of House Finance and Appropriations, Senate Ways and Means, or the transportation committees.
In order to meet the February 22nd deadline, most committee work next week will be devoted to executive action when bills are voted out, or “exec’d,” out of committee, and there are very few actual hearings. This a time when staff works hard to keep bills in committee, ensure bills move out of committee, or engage in negotiations to improve bills that appear to be moving.
The first two weeks of March will be largely devoted to “floor action” when bills are acted upon by the full body. From the policy and fiscal committees, bills are sent to the Rules Committee. The Rules Committee is a powerful one. Considered a gatekeeper, this committee decides which bills will be “pulled” to the floor for further action.
Many bills will die in the House and Senate Rules Committees. Those that are sent to the floor and pass will next go to their opposite house, where the process starts all over again on a shorter timeline.