Washington State government, like our federal government, is divided into three branches. They are supposed to be equally powerful and provide a system of checks and balances on each other so that we, the people, are not oppressed by any of them.
The Executive Branch includes the nine elected executives and their staffs. Listed in order of ascension to the office of Governor, the other eight are Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General, Auditor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Insurance Commissioner and Commissioner of Public Lands. They are all elected for four-year terms.
The Governor is by far the most powerful person in the executive branch. He appoints and supervises all the heads of agencies, departments and institutions. In addition, he appoints mid-term vacancies in the other two branches if that appointment is not otherwise specified in our state constitution. He is not only charged with seeing that the laws of the state are faithfully executed, he also has some legislative responsibilities. He reports annually on affairs of the state; he submits a budget and other recommendations to the legislature; he may veto legislation as a whole or by section; and he may convene the Legislature in extra sessions.
The Legislative Branch is our law-making system. It includes the House of Representatives and the Senate, plus the staff that assist them. From each of the 49 legislative districts, two persons are elected to the House to serve a two-year term and one to the Senate to serve a four-year term. Each district has a population of approximately 122,000 people of voting age. Both the Senate and the House is organized into committees according to topic. Each member is assigned to two or more committees depending on experience, expertise or need.
Proposed legislation first comes to the committee where it is heard and acted upon or just left in committee. Advancing legislation that needs money to work would be heard again in Ways and Means in the Senate or in Appropriations in the House. All legislation that advances further goes to the Rules Committee. From there it is scheduled for final passage on the House or Senate floor. Then proposed legislation has to go through the same procedure in the other body since laws have to be approved by the Senate, the House and the Governor.
The Judicial Branch is our court system. There are nine State Supreme Court justices elected for six-year terms-three are chosen each even-numbered year on a non-partisan ballot. Every four years a new Chief Justice is selected by the other eight justices. In addition to hearing cases, the Chief Justice administers the Court and is responsible for bringing court issues to the legislature.
That is a quick overview of our State government. These are the players and this is the rule of the game according to our constitution. But don't forget, the most important players of all-YOU. Remember the phrase " of the people, by the people, and for the people." This whole system is set up to honor the people of our state. But the people must make their needs and wishes known. The people should make some effort to be informed. They have to get involved in the law-making process by talking to their legislators, by working in the groups that work for them, by coming to Olympia to testify in committee, and by providing oversight to the whole process, especially during election years.
So read up on the issues, call your Senator or Repesentative, and be the government you deserve!
Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), provides her "Across our State" column as her take on the legislative happenings currently underway in Olympia.