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Citizen legislature works best | Editorial
I receive a lot of feedback on the makeup of the state Legislature. Some ask why lawmakers only convene for part of the year and others wonder why we aren’t a full-time Legislature.
Each January, 98 House members and 49 Senate members convene in Olympia. That’s one senator and two representatives for each of the 49 legislative districts.
In even-numbered years legislative sessions are 60 days long. In odd-numbered years, sessions last 105 days. The odd-numbered years are long because we are tasked with crafting a two-year spending plan. Essentially, the even-numbered years are short because we make small tweaks to the two-year budget. While that has not been the case the past two years, when we had six special sessions, it is the more often than not the case.
Like my counterparts in the Legislature, I leave my home, family and job each day during session so I can represent the good people of the 31st District. I asked you for this job and I love it. I just hope as we think about how those in the Legislature can shape our state, we also consider why we value our part-time, citizen Legislature over an “only the most affluent can govern our state” system.
I think it’s always good to look back at perhaps why Washington state has chosen to institute a part-time Legislature made up of ordinary citizens. I can’t read the founders’ minds, but I imagine they envisioned real people with real-life experiences creating laws that they, too, would have to live under.
Imagine, if you will, a Legislature made up solely of the most wealthy – those who can afford to work without pay. How do you think they would view tax policies? Would they adequately represent the hard-working citizens that aren’t so privileged?
Our Legislature is a diverse group of ordinary, hard-working people: agriculturists, ranchers, tech engineers, bankers, architects, teachers, nurses and so on. They bring a wealth of experience to state government and offer diverse views on every issue, from health care to housing, and water policy to agricultural and land use practices.
As a mother, small-business owner, education advocate and many other things, I believe I am better prepared to analyze a host of different policies or at least know who to call if I need local guidance. Each hat we wear gives us a different perspective on how a law will impact our communities, families, schools and local safety net programs.
The beauty of a part-time Legislature is that I’m home doing all the things other families are doing. I am available to listen to residents at local meetings, in the grocery store or wherever. This is a good reality check for legislators – constituents have more opportunity to interact with legislators and share their thoughts on laws considered or passed by the Legislature.
I know there are some who believe that party differences are dividing our state and nation. I disagree. While there are some at the fringes of each end of the political spectrum attempting to create divisiveness, the vast majority of us want to do what is best for our legislative districts, the state and nation.
Our part-time, citizen Legislature is good for Washington state. It encourages and challenges us to listen to new ideas and different perspectives. Bringing our life experiences together for the betterment of the state regardless of our economic situation, political affiliation or background is something special.
Rep. Cathy Dahlquist is serving her first term as a state representative in the 31st Legislative District. She is the assistant ranking Republican on the House Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee. She also serves on the House Education; Rules; and Technology, Energy and Communications committees.