OLYMPIA, Wash. — For the first time since 2020, members of the Washington State Legislature met in-person Monday, convening the annual legislative session at noon.
"It's good to see this floor full again," said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Okanogan County.
Gov. Jay Inslee also will deliver his first in-person "State of the State" address since 2020 on Tuesday.
Members in the House voted to allow remote voting, in case members are sick.
Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma, was sworn into the House of Representatives Saturday.
Her first bill was one of the first to be heard in the 2023 session Monday afternoon.
Mena's bill, HB1047, would prohibit the manufacture and sale of cosmetics made with ingredients considered toxic.
It's a big day for the state's capital after so many years of remote work due to COVID-19.
"With lawmakers all back in the capital for the most part probably unmasked, lobbyists in the rotunda and in the hallways and most significantly members of the public back in the committee hearing rooms testifying in person rather than on Zoom," said Austin Jenkins, a staff writer with Pluribus News and the host of "Inside Olympia," who is excited for what's to come. "This is a long 105-day budget-writing session and frankly the one thing the legislature has to do is pass a balanced budget."
Gov. Jay Inslee proposed a two-year budget back in December. Within that budget, Jenkins said the governor is proposing a $4 billion bond measure to build tens of thousands of affordable housing units.
"We haven't seen anything like this in a number of years, decades in fact and what the governor is saying, the time has come for a solution out of Olympia that meets the scope of today's housing and homelessness crisis," said Jenkins.
Within this legislative session, there is a proposed constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights, which Jenkins believe is going to be a heavy lift. But at the same time, Democrats will still take action this year to further codify and protect reproductive rights in the state.
"They're talking about making Washington a sanctuary state for patients coming from states like Idaho and Texas who come here for abortion services, they want to make sure that providers who might be leaving another state where abortion rights have been restricted have an opportunity to practice here," said Jenkins.
The last high-profile issue Jenkins said to keep an eye out for is an assault weapons ban.
"2023 is the year to be watching closely because it sounds like there's momentum and support and for the first time the state's leading gun safety organization is saying it’s their number one priority," said Jenkins.