Our voices matter
The legislature is a group of representatives and senators elected by us, to represent us in state government.
Each year, the Washington State Legislature gathers to consider, change, and create the laws that govern our lives. We elect our State lawmakers to REPRESENT US in the process, so our opinions and voices matter.
The legislature is made up of two “chambers”—the House, and the Senate.
Washington’s legislature includes two representatives and one senator from each of our 49 districts. Right now, the Democrats are the majority party. In the House, the Democrats currently control 58 seats and Republicans 40. In the Senate, Democrats control 49 and Republicans 20. This is important because the majority party controls the agenda and the committee process including the chairs, the Speaker of the House and Majority Leader in the Senate.
Our legislative process is a two year cycle: and 2023 is a big year.
Every other year (on “odd” years), the legislature sets the state budget—in addition to voting on new laws. Since the budget process is so important, sessions in odd years last longer than even years.
Here’s how a bill becomes a law!
First, the set up:
Lawmakers need to know that the community cares about an issue so that they can prioritize it during the upcoming session!
- Lawmakers start work determining their priorities long before session starts. A lot of this work takes place the summer before.
- Once session starts, a State Senator or Representative “sponsors” a bill—introducing it in either the Senate or House (the two “chambers”). The bill sponsor will be the main advocate who will work to push it through.
Then, the committees and floor vote:
All bills need to pass through a series of committees in the chamber where they were introduced, before ultimately having a floor vote. At each step, the members of that committee will review the bill, debate about it, and sometimes put it up for a public hearing. Ultimately each committee will vote to pass the bill, amend it, reject it, or just drop it altogether.
- The bill starts by going to the most relevant committee—such as Education, Housing, Transportation, and more.
- The next committee decides where funding for the bill will come from: such as imposing a new tax, or appropriating funding from another reserve. (In the House, this committee is called Appropriations; the Senate one is called Ways and Means.)
- Next, the bill goes to the Rules Committee. The members of the Rules Committee can only prioritize a few bills to vote through—so it’s important to make sure our bills are top-of-mind!
- If the bill makes it this far, it will be scheduled for a floor vote—that’s when all the legislators get a chance to debate the bill, and then vote on whether to pass it.
- If a bill passes the chamber where it was introduced (e.g. the House), it has to go through the whole process again in the other one (e.g. the Senate)!
Finally, the governor signs it into law:
- When the bill is accepted in both the House and Senate, it is sent to the governor. The governor signs the bill into law or may veto all or part of it.
- If the governor vetoes a bill, it can still be approved by a ⅔ majority vote of the House and Senate
Interested in taking action this legislative session?
Additional Resources About the Legislative Process
House Gallery Rules
Senate Gallery Rules
Code of Conduct
Find Your Legislator
Glossary of Legislative Terms
Citizen’s Guide to Effective Legislative Participation
House and Senate Member Rosters