Senate doubles number of senators allowed on floor

February 4, 2022 GMT

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — As COVID-19 cases continue to drop across the state, the Washington Senate will double the number of senators allowed on the chamber floor from 15 to 30 starting next week.

The Democratic-majority Senate Facilities and Operations Committee met via Zoom on Friday morning to discuss updating the COVID-19 protocols as they near the halfway mark of the 60-day session that began Jan. 10.

Under the plan unanimously approved by the committee, floor action will continue to be mostly conducted in a hybrid format with a majority of the chamber’s 49 members participating in-person, and some members participating remotely. The maximum number of lawmakers allowed on the floor will be 30: 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

As before, a maximum of three staff members per caucus will be permitted in the Senate wings during floor action. And all members and staff who plan to be at the Capitol will continue to be required to have a confirmed on-site negative test before entering Senate facilities, regardless of vaccination status, with testing costs to be covered by the Senate.

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Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig said that the testing protocols and other safety measures implemented have given him confidence that more people could gather on the floor.

“Our goal all along has to been to get back to normal as much as possible, and as safe as possible, and this is a safe and reasonable next step in that direction,” he said.

In-person meetings are still suspended under the Senate plan, and visitors and members of the public will not be allowed in the Senate facilities, including in the galleries overlooking the floor. Credentialed members of the media will continue to occupy the galleries, instead of the traditional press table on the chamber floor, and will continue to provide proof of a negative test for access.

Republican Sen. John Braun said that while he’d like to see the public back soon, he called the move “a step in the right direction.”

“Nothing we do is without risk,” he said, but said majority Democrats “have been very thoughtful with the way they’ve approached the risk.”

No changes have yet been announced for the House, which currently allows two lawmakers from each caucus and the presiding officer on the House floor, with the rest voting remotely. All members who plan to be on the floor must show proof of vaccination, including a booster. And all House lawmakers and staff who work onsite are being tested three days a week.