|Influencing Olympia Part III – Bill Research Using the Legislative WebsiteAnother in my series of how to influence Olympia! Don’t worry – only one or two more to go after this that will tie everything together and tell you how to use the resources I’m providing. You are not expected to remember and be able to use everything here right away. In fact, most of you will likely store these emails away and then pull them out when you hear about a bill that is going through the legislative process. Starting next week, I’ll send email updates about current legislation being considered like I did last year, but I can only give you a fraction of what goes on. By having many eyes on Olympia and a well-oiled information network, we can all work together to make an impact.|
The legislative website’s bill search engine is located at https://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/ If you see or hear of a bill number, you can plug in the number here and find out everything about it, including when the hearings are scheduled. Nothing perks up elected officials more than a room overflowing with citizens who are either supporting or opposing a bill. Letters and calls are important, but actually having a crowd show up makes a very visual impact they can’t ignore.
The bill I’m using as an example will be a tax that was on your 2020 ballot as an advisory vote. It’s a very complex bill, but I think it provides all the parts that will allow me to explain how to find what you need. The bill is one that placed a new and onerous B&O tax on service industries – SB 6492. You can enter the bill number in the web page search engine above. If you do that, you will see that it says the bill is not found. That’s because it is a bill from last year, so click on the year option and choose 2019-2020. Or just click here –
I’ll step through this page, so you can see how each section provides you with the information you might be interested in.Bill History. Every bill must be “read in” and referred to a particular committee. A hearing will likely be scheduled in the committee. After the hearing, if the Chair of the committee wishes to pass the bill out, there is a vote and, if it passes, it goes to the floor for a vote. Then the same process takes place in the other chamber.
In this particular case, since it was a Senate Bill, you can see it was read into Ways & Means on Jan 20th, 2020. If you are ever interested in a bill, the next entry is very important – the hearing date. This one was heard on Jan 21st. You need to monitor this part of the bill page, if you want to go to Olympia to testify in support or opposition of a bill. They are required to post the hearing date 5 days in advance. However, if time is short or if they don’t want word to get out about a bill, they might post it at the last minute and suspend the rules to go ahead and hear it without the notice. I will talk more about participating in a hearing in the next email. You can see that this was the case in this instance. The bill was read in on one day and heard the next. That makes it almost impossible to participate in the process. Those who made the decision to suspend the rules should be taken to task by the citizens of the state. Their decision to do that kept the people barred from the process.
One other important part of the bill history is the roll call list. If you look at SB 6492, you will see that on Jan 30th, the Senate voted to pass the bill. Click on the “view roll calls” link, and you will see the Senators that voted for and against the bill. This is important whenever you are curious about how your own legislator voted. On this bill, every Republican and Sen. Sheldon voted Nay, but since we are in the minority, the bill passed. As you can see, the bill went to the House and followed a similar path through that chamber.
Bill Documents. The first column under this heading is where you will find the actual bill. It will always have the original bill and then all the versions of the bill that followed in the process. Once the bill is passed into law, the final Session Law version is included in the list. Sometimes bills are easy to read, but sometimes it’s a tough slog for those of us who are non-lawyer types.
All the words in each bill are not necessarily new law. If you look at Sec.1. of SB 6492 (the session law version), you will see that there are words that are underlined. This means the words are being added to the current law. Now go to section 4 on page 6. You will see lines that have a strike-through – for several pages. These words are being removed from the law. Again, any words that are struck out are words currently in law that will be removed, and those words that are underlined will be the new law. There is one other thing to watch out for – the words NEW SECTION. The wording in that section is all new. They don’t underline it – since the entire section is new, they merely signify the new portion by prefacing it with those words. Go to the very end of this bill, and you will see several New Sections.
To provide one more example, go back to the top. You will see that Section 1 has very few words struck out or underlined. The entire section is current law and will remain unchanged with the exception of lines 18 on p1, lines 21 & 22 on p2, etc. Many people think the entire wording of a bill is new law, but only the struck out, underlined, and New Section parts are changes to current law.
Bill Reports. If you are like me and are not an expert in law, you will often find that it is sometimes extremely difficult to read a bill and understand what the changes mean. That is why I often skip reading the bill itself and go straight to the bill report. The Bill Report isn’t added until a hearing takes place, so you may have to resort to figuring out the bill, but if there is a bill report, it’s invaluable.
The legislative staff provides a summary of what the bill does and background about the different terms and programs referenced in the bill. Once a hearing has been completed, there is a very informative section added to the report that includes a summary of testimony. This is a great place to see who the bill will help and who it will harm, because you will get testimony from both sides. Note: Every bill helps a group of people, but it always harms a group – even simple bills cause harm. The job of the legislator is to find out who it helps – and how – and who it hurts. Then they have to balance the two. Some bills are obvious – some require a lot of people thinking through the unintended consequences. That’s what the legislative process is for.
Take a look at SB 6492 SENATE BILL REPORT (not the one labeled Orig – click on the second one down). This is the summary of the bill as it passed out of committee. You will see the Brief Summary which consists of a few bullet points, the names of legislators on the Committee who voted to pass or not pass the bill out of committee. Then comes the Background section that tells you about what the B&O is and where the funds go. The next section is a Summary of Bill. The brief summary that you saw at the top is quite abbreviated. This second summary expands on it and also provides a section that tells you the effect of the bill.
Finally, you can see a summary of testimony. Here you see that on the Pro side, this bill will net the State a lot of money, so they can provide free college. On the Con side, it will impact doctor’s offices (hospitals were exempted), and it gave money in a very uneven manner to different higher education institutions, which is always the case when the government decides where the money goes instead of market forces. You can also see who did the testifying, so you can discern which groups will be harmed and which would be helped by this bill.
Amendments. As you can see by the long list of amendments here, the Republicans tried to amend this bill to make it less damaging. You can also see that the majority was able to defeat their attempts to amend. The amendments tried to exempt doctors offices that treat many Medicaid patients, businesses owned by Veterans, etc.
Videos. Finally, if you want to watch any of the hearings related to this bill, there are links at the bottom of this page.
I hope this has been helpful. Again, don’t feel like you have to remember all this information. Just file it away and pull it out whenever you need to look into a bill you’ve heard about. The more you use Leg.wa.gov, the easier it becomes to follow what is happening in Olympia and use the data to influence your Legislators.