Washington State Legislature

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Washington State Legislature

Seal of Washington.jpg
General Information
Type:   State legislature
Term limits:   None
2015 session start:   January 12, 2015
Website:   Official Legislature Page
Senate President:   Brad Owen (D)
House Speaker:  Frank Chopp (D)
Majority Leader:   Rodney Tom (D) (Senate),
Pat Sullivan (D) (House)
Minority Leader:   Sharon Nelson (D) (Senate),
Dan Kristiansen (R) (House)
Members:  49 (Senate), 98 (House)
Length of term:   4 years (Senate), 2 years (House)
Authority:   Art II, Section 2, Washington Constitution
Salary:   $42,106/year + per diem
Last Election:  November 4, 2014
25 seats (Senate)
98 seats (House)
Next election:  November 8, 2016
Redistricting:  Washington State Redistricting Commission has control
The Washington State Legislature is the state legislature of Washington. It is a bicameral body, composed of the lower Washington House of Representatives, with 98 representatives, and the upper Washington State Senate, with 49 senators.

The State Legislature meets at the Legislative Building in Olympia.

The Legislature begins each legislative session annually on the second Monday in January. In odd-numbered years, such as when the state budget is debated upon, the State Legislature meets for 105 days, and in even-numbered years, it meets for 60 days. The Governor of Washington, if necessary, can call legislators in for a special session for a 30-day period at any time during the year. Legislators can also call themselves into special session by a two-thirds vote by both the House of Representatives and the State Senate.

Article II of the Washington State Constitution defines the powers, duties and privileges of the legislative branch of Washington's state government.

As of April 2015, Washington is one of 19 states that is under divided government and is therefore not one of the state government trifectas.

See also: Washington House of Representatives, Washington State Senate, Washington Governor


The Washington State Legislature traces its ancestry to the creation of the Washington Territory in 1853, following successful arguments from settlers north of the Columbia River to the U.S. federal government to legally separate from the Oregon Territory. The Washington Territorial Assembly, as the newly-created area's bicameral legislature, convened the following year. The Legislature represented settlers from the Straits of Juan de Fuca to modern Montana.

Votes for women

From nearly the start of the territory, arguments over giving women the right to vote dogged legislative proceedings. While some legislators carried genuine concerns over women deserving the right to vote, most legislators pragmatically believed that giving women suffrage would entice more Eastern women to immigrate to the remote and sparsely populated territory. In 1854, only six years after the Seneca Falls Convention, the issue was brought to a vote by the Legislature. Women's suffrage was defeated by a single vote.

In 1869, the Wyoming State Legislature would become the first body in the United States to grant women's suffrage.

The issue over female suffrage did not diminish. In 1883, the issue returned to the floor, this time with the Territorial Assembly successfully passing universal suffrage for women. It quickly became one of the most liberal voting laws in the nation, giving female African-American voters the voting franchise for the first time in the U.S. However, in 1887, the territorial Washington Supreme Court ruled the 1883 universal suffrage act as unconstitutional in Harland v. Washington. Another attempt by the Legislature to regrant universal female suffrage was again overturned in 1888.

After two failed voter referenda in 1889 and 1898, the now-Washington State Legislature approved full female voting rights in 1910.


With more than two decades of pressure on federal authorities to authorize statehood, on February 22, 1889, the U.S. Congress passed the Enabling Act, signed into law by outgoing President Grover Cleveland, authorizing the territories of Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana to form state governments. The Territorial Assembly set out to convene a constitutional convention to write a state constitution.

Following its successful passage by the Legislature, Washington voters approved the new document on October 1. On November 11, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison authorized Washington to become the 42nd state of United States. It was the last West Coast state of the Continental U.S. to achieve statehood. The modern Washington State Legislature was created.


This image shows the state capitol under construction in the 1920s.

Article II of the Washington Constitution establishes when the Legislature is to be in session. Section 12 of Article II allows the dates of regular sessions to be determined by statute. Current law calls for the Legislature to meet on the second Monday in January.[1] Section 12 of the constitution limits the length of regular sessions to 105 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years.

Section 12 also establishes rules for convening special sessions of the Legislature. It states that special sessions can be called by the Governor of Washington or by resolution of two-thirds of the members of each legislative house. Special sessions are not to exceed 30 days in length.


See also: Dates of 2015 state legislative sessions

In 2015, the Legislature will be in session from January 12 through April 26.

Major issues


See also: Dates of 2014 state legislative sessions

In 2014, the Legislature was in session from January 13 through March 14.

Major issues

Major issues during the 2014 legislative session included a court-mandated $5 billion education funding package, transportation funding through a gas tax increase and climate change proposals.[2]


See also: Dates of 2013 state legislative sessions

In 2013, the Legislature was in session from January 14 to April 29.

Major issues

Throughout the 2013 legislative session, the budget remained the most pressing issue for the state. Other agenda items included marijuana, child sex abuse, gun control, wolves, small businesses, human trafficking and healthcare.[3]


See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions

In 2012, the Legislature was in session from January 9 through March 8.


See also: Dates of 2011 state legislative sessions

In 2011, the Legislature was in session from January 10 through April 24.[4]


See also: Dates of 2010 state legislative sessions

In 2010, the Legislature was in regular session from January 11 to March 11. Additionally, the Legislature was in special session from March 15 to April 12 to deal with issues related to the economy and the state budget.[5]

Role in state budget

See also: Washington state budget and finances
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The state operates on a biennial budget cycle. The sequence of key events in the budget process is as follows:[6][7]

  1. Budget instruction guidelines are sent to state agencies in April.
  2. State agency budget requests are submitted in September.
  3. The governor submits his or her proposed budget to the Washington State Legislature on or before December 20.
  4. The legislature adopts a budget in April or May. A simple majority is required to pass a budget.
  5. The biennial budget cycle begins in July.

Washington is one of 44 states in which the governor has line item veto authority.[7]

The governor is required by statute to submit a balanced budget to the legislature. Though the legislature is not required to pass a balanced budget, state law does forbid expenditures without supporting revenues.[7]

Cost-benefit analyses

See also: Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative Cost-Benefit Study
Map showing results of the Pew-MacArthur cost-benefit study.

The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative released a report in July 2013 indicating that cost-benefit analysis in policymaking led to more effective uses of public funds. Looking at data from 2008 through 2011, the study's authors found that some states were more likely to use cost-benefit analysis, while others were facing challenges and lagging behind the rest of the nation. The challenges states faced included a lack of time, money and technical skills needed to conduct comprehensive cost-benefit analyses. Washington was one of the 10 states that used cost-benefit analysis more than the rest of the states with respect to determining return on investment regarding state programs. In addition, these states were more likely to use cost-benefit analysis with respect to large budget areas and when making policy decisions.[8]

Ethics and transparency

Following the Money report

See also: "Following the Money" report, 2014

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer-focused nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., released its annual report on state transparency websites in April 2014. The report, entitled "Following the Money," measured how transparent and accountable state websites are with regard to state government spending.[9] According to the report, Washington received a grade of B and a numerical score of 85, indicating that Washington was "advancing" in terms of transparency regarding state spending.[9]

Open States Transparency

See also: Open States' Legislative Data Report Card

The Sunlight Foundation released an "Open Legislative Data Report Card" in March 2013. Washington was given a grade of A in the report. The report card evaluated how adequate, complete and accessible legislative data was to the general public. A total of 10 states received an A: Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.[10]

Records exemptions

The Washington State Legislature is one of several state legislatures that exempt many of their own records from public disclosure. According to the state's Public Records Act, legislators are not required to reveal all their email correspondence and other internal communications to the public. Adam Kline, according to the Seattle Times, has expressed hostility toward the idea that these records should be public.[11][12]

Television coverage

Debates within both the House and Senate, as well as committee meetings and other special events within or relating to the Legislature, are broadcast throughout Washington on TVW, the state public affairs network.


The Washington State Senate is the upper house of the Washington State Legislature. The body consists of 49 senators. Each member represents an average of 137,236 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[13] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 120,288.[14]

Senators serve four-year terms, without term limits. Senators are elected from the same legislative districts as House members, with each district electing two representatives but only one senator.

Like other upper houses of state and territorial legislatures and the federal U.S. Senate, the Washington State Senate can confirm or reject gubernatorial appointments to the state cabinet, commissions and boards.

Leadership of the Senate

The Lieutenant Governor of Washington serves as the President of the Senate, but only casts a vote if required to break a tie. In his or her absence, the President Pro Tempore presides over the Senate. The President Pro Tempore is elected by the majority party caucus followed by confirmation of the entire Senate through a Senate Resolution. The President Pro Tempore is the chief leadership position in the Senate. The majority and minority leaders are elected by their respective party caucuses.

Partisan composition

Party As of April 2015
     Democratic Party 24
     Republican Party 25
Total 49

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Washington State Senate from 1992-2013.

Partisan composition of the Washington State Senate.PNG

House of Representatives

The Washington House of Representatives is the lower house of the Washington State Legislature. It is composed of 98 representatives, two from each of Washington's 49 districts. All members of the House are elected to a two-year term without term limits. Each member represents an average of 68,617 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[15] After the 2000 Census, each member represented an average of 60,144 residents.[16]

Leadership of the House

The Speaker of the House presides over the House of Representatives. The Speaker is elected by the majority party caucus followed by confirmation of the full House through the passage of a House Resolution. As well as presiding over the body, the Speaker is also the chief leadership position, and controls the flow of legislation. Other House leaders, such as the majority and minority leaders, are elected by their respective party caucuses relative to their party's strength in the House.

Partisan composition

Party As of April 2015
     Democratic Party 51
     Republican Party 47
Total 98

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Washington State House from 1992-2013.

Partisan composition of the Washington State House.PNG


See also: Redistricting in Washington

Legislative redistricting in Washington has been handled by the Washington State Redistricting Commission since 1983. The majority and minority leaders of the state House and Senate each appoint one member, and collectively select a non-voting chairperson. If they cannot agree on the chair, the Washington Supreme Court decides. The governor does not hold veto power, and the Legislature can only make changes by a two-thirds vote.

2010 census

Washington received its local census data on February 23, 2011. The state increased in population by 14.1 percent from 2000 to 2010. The major outlier was Franklin County, which jumped 58.4 percent. As for the most populous cities, Seattle grew by 8.0 percent, Spokane grew by 6.8 percent, Tacoma grew by 2.5 percent, Vancouver grew by 12.7 percent, and Bellevue grew by 11.7 percent.[17]

The commission released first draft maps on September 13, 2011. For the third time in a row, the commission went down to the wire in agreeing on new legislative districts, finishing two hours and five minutes before New Year's Day 2012, at which point the Washington Supreme Court would have taken over. The commission had mainly been concerned with the eastern districts and how to distribute Yakima Hispanics. The Legislature followed with tweaks, approving the final maps on January 27, 2012.



See also: Comparison of state legislative salaries

As of 2013, members of the Washington Legislature were paid $42,106/year. Each legislator received a per diem of $90 per day.[18]

When sworn in

See also: When state legislators assume office after a general election

Washington legislators assume office the first day of session.

Joint Committees

See also: Public policy in Washington

The Washington State Legislature has eight joint committees. The Legislature also has joint task forces, work groups and select committees. Those can be found here.


Partisan balance 1992-2013

Who Runs the States Project
See also: Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States and Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Washington
Partisan breakdown of the Washington legislature from 1992-2013

Washington Senate: From 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the Washington State Senate for 16 years while the Republicans were the majority for six years.

Across the country, there were 541 Democratic and 517 Republican state senates from 1992 to 2013.

Washington House: From 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the Washington State House of Representatives for 15 years while the Republicans were the majority for four years.

Across the country, there were 577 Democratic and 483 Republican state houses from 1992 to 2013.

Over the course of the 22-year study, state governments became increasingly more partisan. At the outset of the study period (1992), 18 of the 49 states with partisan legislatures had single-party trifectas and 31 states had divided governments. In 2013, only 13 states had divided governments, while single-party trifectas held sway in 36 states, the most in the 22 years studied.

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Office of the Governor of Washington, the Washington State Senate and the Washington House of Representatives from 1992-2013. Partisan composition of Washington state government(1992-2013).PNG

SQLI and partisanship

To read the full report on the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI) in PDF form, click here.

The chart below depicts the partisanship of the Washington state government and the state's SQLI ranking for the years studied. For the SQLI, the states were ranked from 1-50, with 1 being the best and 50 the worst. During the course of the study, Washington had a number of Democratic trifectas. The state experienced both high and low rankings during the years with Democratic trifectas. Its highest ranking overall, finishing eighth, occurred in 1998 during a divided government.

Chart displaying the partisanship of the Washington government from 1992-2013 and the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI).

See also

External links


  1. Washington State Legislature, "Visiting the Legislature," accessed August 2, 2014
  2. washingtonstatewire.com, "Session Set to Open in ‘Bizarro World’ – Supreme Court Decision Turns Everything Upside Down," January 13, 2014
  3. The Spokesman Review, "Budget remains pressing issue in new legislative session," January 13, 2013
  4. National Conference of State Legislatures, "2011 Legislative Sessions Calendar," December 19, 2011
  5. National Conference of State Legislatures, "2010 Legislative Sessions Calendar," December 8, 2010
  6. National Conference of State Legislatures, "State Experiences with Annual and Biennial Budgeting," updated April 2011
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 National Association of State Budget Officers, "Budget Processes in the States, Summer 2008," accessed February 21, 2014
  8. Pew Charitable Trusts, "States’ Use of Cost-Benefit Analysis," July 29, 2013
  9. 9.0 9.1 U.S. Public Interest Research Group, "Following the Money 2014 Report," accessed April 15, 2014
  10. Sunlight Foundation, "Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information," accessed June 16, 2013
  11. Open Records, "The Washington state legislature…open? Not so much," May 18, 2009
  12. Seattle Times, "Will Legislature open its own records?," May 11, 2009
  13. census.gov, "Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010," accessed May 15, 2014
  14. U.S. Census Bureau, "States Ranked by Population," April 2, 2001
  15. census.gov, "Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010," accessed May 15, 2014
  16. U.S. Census Bureau, "States Ranked by Population," April 2, 2001
  17. U.S. Census Bureau, "U.S. Census Bureau Delivers Washington's 2010 Census Population Totals, Including First Look at Race and Hispanic Origin Data for Legislative Redistricting," February 23, 2011 (timed out)
  18. NCSL.org, "2012 State Legislator Compensation and Per Diem Table," accessed March 18, 2013