Our state government is organized with the same three branches as has our federal government-executive, judicial and legislative. These offer the checks and balances on one another that our founding fathers thought so necessary to keep us a republic.
The judicial branch is our state's court system from the municipal courts in each city to the Supreme Court of the State of Washington here on the Capitol campus in Olympia.
The nine elected executives and their staffs make up the executive branch. These are Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General, Auditor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Insurance Commissioner and Commissioner of Public Lands. These are listed in order of ascension to the office of Governor.
As do most states in the union, Washington has a bicameral legislature-both a Senate and a House of Representatives. The 49 senators and the 98 representatives and their staffs make up the legislative branch. Senators serve a term of four years; representatives serve two. There are no term limits. One senator and two representatives come from one of the 49 legislative districts across the state. New district lines are drawn according to population every 10 years after the census.
The work of the legislative branch is to consider and enact the laws of the state. A bill is a written proposal to enact a law. With the introduction of a thousand plus bills for each session's consideration, it would be impossible for each member to research all of them. So every senator and representative is assigned to certain committees by their expertise and interest to consider proposed legislation by subject matter.
Committees meet on a regular schedule in the hearing rooms on the first floor of both the Senate and House Office buildings. The hearings or work sessions are open to the public; in fact those affected by and interested in the legislation are urged to attend.
This is the first week of the 60-day legislative session in our State capital. The longer session is 105 days, which occurs every odd year after the even year election cycle. The 60-day or short session is shorter because it doesn't write the biennial budget; however there is a supplemental budget. Lawmakers are busy "dropping" bills for hearings on what additional laws are important to their constituents. All this information plus a listing and summary of the bills which are under consideration is available on the Internet at www.leg.wa.gov.
Legislators need to hear from the people this proposed legislation might impact. They need to know as much as they can to make an informed vote on whether or not to send the bill on to full Senate or House action. If the bill has a fiscal note, which means it will take money to implement, then it goes to a second committee work session-Ways and Means in the Senate or Appropriations in the House. That gives another opportunity to give input.
A couple years ago in this column, I wrote Civics 101, giving a brief overview of the process here across the state. This column is a little more detailed to keep you involved in the proceedings.
That's my goal in writing this. Before Jim was elected, I thought this didn't really affect me, that the right thing would be done without my input, and that I didn't really know how to affect any of the outcomes anyway. I was wrong.
Now I know that legislators are thrilled to see constituents and to hear from them on the issues. They really want to know what they think is best for our State. We love to see people from home and we're glad to show them around.
- Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), provides her "Across Our State" column to local readers while the couple is in Olympia.