State Legislature plans for a largely remote 2021 legislative session.

State lawmakers have announced plans for a 2021 legislative session still governed by  COVID rules. The Seattle Times reports,

Empty marble corridors in the Washington Capitol. Many state legislators casting votes remotely. The customary public hearings that draw passionate residents conducted instead by teleconference.

When state lawmakers return as scheduled in January, they’ll be conducting the 2021 legislative session for the most part remotely amid a coronavirus pandemic that continues to gain steam.

ST reporter Joseph O’Sullivan writes that the tentative plans were announced by House and Senate Democratic leaders yesterday.

A handful of Washington’s 49 senators would be allowed on the floor at once during debates, according to the plan, which was approved by the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee. The others would participate remotely from their legislative offices or from elsewhere.

And,

Committee meetings and hearings would be conducted via teleconference, with residents and lobbyists appearing remotely, according to a copy of the tentative Senate plan.

Further,

The Capitol, which has been closed for months to the public amid the pandemic, would remain shuttered to the public.

The altered process has clear policy implications.

Earlier in the meeting, [Republican leader Mark] Schoesler raised questions about how last-minute amendments to legislation might be put forth if sessions on the Senate floor were being choreographed remotely and potentially in advance.

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, in response said that he wanted “to work on this particular wrinkle a little bit more and make sure we get it right.”

Schoesler voted against the proposal.

Expect something similar from the House.

The House, meanwhile, hasn’t yet finalized its plans, Democratic Speaker Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma said Thursday.

But Jinkins described roughly the same approach, except with fewer lawmakers on the House floor.

“We’re moving toward a fully remote session, but we’re in a space where we’re not prepared yet to make that final announcement,” Jinkins said.

From the Associated Press,

Under the plan approved by the Senate committee along party lines, new senators will be sworn in individually, and at least 25 members must be in the chamber in person on the first day of the session to vote on changes to Senate rules. Votes will occur in shifts to ensure adequate social distancing. Republican members voted against the plan, saying they had concerns about public access.

Regular floor votes will be conducted in a hybrid format, with a mix of senators present in the chamber and others participating remotely. Before the session starts, the Facilities and Operations Committee will make a decision on how many senators and staff are allowed on the floor, rostrum and in the wings, and may adjust that number during if necessary.

And so the new legislative year is poised to begin.