In Part I of this series on Influencing Olympia, I gave you some resources for finding information, but what do you do when you find a bill number? Or what if you are curious to find out how your legislators vote? In Parts II & III, I’m going to show you how to dig deeper to find out more about a particular bill, so you know what it does and where it is in the process. There are two websites I use to really drill down for information. and In Part II, I will show you how to use the first one – WashingtonVotes.
One of the bills that triggered an Advisory Votes on your ballot last November was SB 6492. It was a bill that added new B&O taxes businesses that provide services. 
The WashingtonVotes site is a great way to see clearly what happened with this bill. It has similar information to the legislative site but spells it out in a way that even someone like me – a non-attorney mom from out in the sticks – can understand. Click on the link to and enter the number 6492 in the search engine for bill number. Your first attempt will come up empty, because this was a bill from last year. Click on the link below that says “search all years.” Under option number 1, you can choose dates (click on 2019-2020). It then asks you to choose House Bill or Senate Bill. HB is House, SB is Senate, so choose Senate Bill. Fill in with the number 6492 and click “view”. (Tip: All House Bills are numbered in the 1000 and 2000 range. All Senate Bills are 5000 – 6000, so if you saw 6492 without the SB in front of it, you can still tell it’s a Senate Bill just by the number).
The main bill page tells you who introduced the bill, the committees it went through, and it tells about any changes made to the original document. For instance, you can see that Senator Becker tried to add an amendment that would exempt doctors offices who have a large percentage of Medicaid patients. The amendment failed. Below that entry, you will see the entry that indicates passage in the Senate, but you have to travel down the page quite a ways – there were a lot of amendments proposed. If you click on “Who voted yes and who voted no,” you will see how your legislator voted. This is one of those bills that passed on a party-line vote with all Democrats except Senator Sheldon voting yes and all Republicans plus Senator Sheldon voting no. 
When you click on the link to see how your legislator voted on this bill, you will see them listed two different ways. First, you will see all the votes in favor vs the no votes, separated by Republican vs Democrat. Below that, there is a list of all legislators in order by name. You can look up either the House vote or the Senate vote – they are listed separately.
This is an example of one bill. But there is so much more information that you can get from Washington Votes. If you go back to the home page, you will see that you can focus just on one legislator. Click on the legislator of your choice. At the beginning, you will see every single bill he/she proposed  on for the current year, and then it goes on to talk about how that legislator voted. Bear in mind that the session hasn’t begun yet, so there is very little information at this time. But wait a week or two – it will fill up fast! This page gives you an idea of how legislators vote and the bills they’ve sponsored. Bear in mind that you will never agree with any legislator 100% of the time, so try to get an overall picture of who is representing you, and send them a note to let them know how you feel about their particular votes – even when you agree. Do you want to see what your legislator did last year? Under the drop-down box that says “searches,” click on All Advanced Searches, go to #4 for Senate or #5 for House, choose your legislator and then choose the dates 1/1/2019 – 12/31/2020. That will give you all the data for that legislator for the last biennium. Note: The Legislature meets in 2-year chunks, so we always look at the data in a particular biennium. We are starting a new biennium this year, which is why there is very little data for this year.
Let’s say you have no idea what bill number you are looking for, but you are interested in gun issues, gas taxes, education, or any of a dozen other subjects. Go back to the “All Advanced Searches” page #3 and choose “firearms” from the category list. You will see a lengthy list of bills that have been introduced. No action has been taken on any of them yet, but next week, the committees and floor action will begin. You need to prepare now, if you wish to weigh in on any of these bills. Now enter the dates 1/1/2019 – 12/31/2020 in the same search. You will see a list of all the firearms bills from last biennium. You can also choose to see only those that passed into law by clicking that box. Each one lists the related bill number, so you can look into that specific bill from this page. Note: Bills are being introduced all the time, so by the time you click on this link, other firearms bills may have been added. Also note that some bills are good firearms bills and will protect the legal owner, so just because it’s a bill about firearm doesn’t make it a bad bill (although you can pretty much guess which kind it is based on who sponsors it!).
Anywhere on the Washingtonvotes site that you click on the words “Official Text and Analysis”, you will be taken to and you can get even more information. This is important, because it will tell you when a bill is in committee, so you can get to Olympia to testify or write to your legislator in a timely manner (this year, the Democrats have closed the Capitol to the public, a move that was vehemently opposed by Republicans. I will cover the site in more detail in Part III of this series. In the meantime, I would suggest that you play with the Washingtonvotes site now, before session begins.
If you want to be kept up to date on current legislation, you can subscribe to their email notifications. At the top of their web page, you will see that you can subscribe to get notices when something changes in the process. Sign up using the email address you want your notices to go to and then update your list. Now you will get an email notice every time the bill on this topic moves. There are many subjects listed, so sign up for as many as you are interested in – you can always go back in and change it later, if you decide you are getting too many emails.
This is a lot of information, but if you stepped through the Washingtonvotes site along with the narrative above, you can see that after just a short time, you could easily utilize this site to become more fully informed. Following the legislature takes time, but better to find out early in the process what bills are being introduced than to wait and find out after the bill has already passed. If you have a group of friends who are interested, you could even split the work – one person takes the taxes issue and one takes firearms – many hands make light work. The times when a bill has been successfully stopped in Olympia are the times when people get organized and work together to get out information to the general public. Form a group to take that on within your sphere of influence. If enough people do that, we can make a difference!