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Arrests, security, new rules highlight first day of Washington state legislative session

State lawmakers passed rules to make the rest of the 2021 session mostly virtual. The first day of the session happened amid heighted security due to recent unrest.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state’s Legislature convened Monday morning under a large security presence amid concerns about efforts by armed groups who might try to disrupt the proceedings.

The Capitol is closed to the public because of the pandemic and surrounded by fences and extra security following violent incidents at the state and U.S. Capitols last week.

Gov. Jay Inslee activated up to 750 members of the Washington National Guard to assist with security on the Capitol campus in Olympia.

On Tuesday, Inslee extended the security measures to Inauguration Day on Wed., Jan. 20. He released a statement that says, in part: 

"Based on the recommendation of the Washington State Patrol, current security measures on the Capitol Campus will remain in place through federal Inauguration Day due to evolving intelligence on security threats posed in all 50 state capitals following the violence in our nation’s capital, as well as recent illegal and dangerous actions associated with non-permitted events on our state’s Capitol Campus."

Only lawmakers, staffers, and members of the press are allowed past the heavily armed security officers.

“I’m actually crying,” said state Sen. Jeannie Darnielle, D-Tacoma, as she drove up to the Capitol security checkpoint lined with dozens of guardsmen.

“It makes me very sad they’ve had to risk their lives to come out here,” said Darnielle.

At least two people were arrested Monday morning for being in areas of the campus considered off-limits to the public because of recent threats.

A right-wing militia initially encouraged its members to occupy the Capitol when the Legislature started its 105-day legislative session, but following the riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C, the organizer canceled the Olympia event.

RELATED: 2 arrested at Capitol in Olympia as legislative session gets underway amid tight security

Once inside the legislative building, lawmakers passed new rules to make the 2021 session mostly virtual. Public hearings and debates are expected to occur online for the 105-day session.

Republicans voted against the rules, arguing the public would be left out of the lawmaking process.

“We are removing that access to democracy,” said Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Benton County.

But Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, said health officials said holding a mostly virtual session was the safest option.

“I look forward to the day that my constituents can be down here with us,” said Liias, “That day is not today.”

Some of the big issues to be brought up this legislative session are a possible capital gains tax and coronavirus relief. 

Inslee told KING 5 last week that he hopes lawmakers will take measures to pass a coronavirus aid package the first week.

"I understand deeply, personally and daily the suffering people have had economically in part because some of our emergency orders," said Inslee.

Later in the session, he hopes lawmakers will pass a new capital gains tax.

RELATED: National Guard, state troopers to remain at Capitol in Olympia for start of legislative session

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