Teach With TVW: Washington’s Legislative Branch
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Teach With TVW: Washington’s Legislative Branch

You may be familiar with how the United States
Congress functions, but how does the legislative branch work in Washington State? What are some of the differences between the
branches at the state and federal levels? One of the many differences is that, unlike
Congress, the Washington State Legislature does not meet year round–it meets part of
the year in Olympia. Washington has a citizen legislature, comprised
of legislators who have other jobs when the legislature is not in session. The only qualifications for legislators is
that they be citizens of the United States and qualified voters in the district from
which they are chosen. The Legislature is a bicameral body, meaning
it has two different chambers—a Senate and a House of Representatives. Washington is divided up into 49 Legislative
Districts. Each district sends one Senator and two Representatives
to the state Legislature. That makes 49 Senators and 98 Representatives. Representatives serve two-year terms, while
Senators serve 4 year terms. Two primary responsibilities of the Legislature
are to make laws and to adopt a state budget. By making laws the Legislature makes changes
to the RCWs or the Revised Code of Washington. This is the set of laws that govern our state. By adopting a state budget the Legislature
determines the level and means by which citizens will be taxed and how that money will be appropriated. Another important responsibility of the Legislature
is to provide oversight of the other branches and itself. The Legislature does this with the power of
impeachment and by establishing rules of conduct for each. Regular sessions of the Legislature begin
on the second Monday in January. Originally the Washington State Constitution
stipulated that the Legislature meet every other year. But the Constitution was amended and the legislature
now meet annually. Bills, or proposed changes to the RCWs, are
considered during a two-year period called a biennium. Each biennium consists of two regular sessions—a
long session and a short session. Long sessions take place in odd-numbered years,
and last for 105 days. Short sessions takes place in even-numbered
years, and last for 60 days. During a long session bills are introduced
and passed and a two-year budget is adopted. During a short session a supplemental budget
is adopted, which makes any necessary adjustments to the original two-year budget. Bills may also be introduced during a short
session, but any bill that has not passed by the end of this session is said to “die,”
as this is the end of the biennium. If there is more legislative work that needs
to be done outside of the regular sessions, a special session may be called. Special sessions can be called by the governor
or by a two-thirds vote of legislators in both chambers. Special sessions can last for up to 30 days. There is no limit to how many special sessions
may be called. The last act of the Legislature at the end
of session is to adjourn Sine Die. Sine Die occurs either when the legislature
is finished with its business or at midnight on the final day of the session. While there are many similarities between
the ways the U.S. Congress and the Washington State Legislature operate, there are also
fundamental differences that make our state’s legislative branch unique.

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