Senate continues to expand public access through remote testimony

Update to leaders notes significant progress; House fails to offer report

Since 2014, Senators Mike Padden and Sharon Brown have led an effort to increase the opportunities for public participation in the legislative process. The two recently requested an update from Senate and House administrators on progress to enable testimony from places outside of the Capitol, especially east of the Cascade Mountains.

The responses could not be more different. The House of Representatives failed to respond, while the Senate provided a detailed report about the successes of its pilot program.

“I am very pleased with the success of our remote-testimony pilot program in the Senate,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley and chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “The Senate administration responded immediately to our request for an update, and the news was very encouraging.

“The technology has worked well, the public has embraced the idea, and the technical staff has made great strides to improve the system so that committees now can hold simultaneous remote hearings using multiple hearing rooms.”

In his response to Padden and Brown, Secretary of the Senate Hunter Goodman expressed confidence in the Senate’s efforts.

“We have made great strides over the past year,” wrote Goodman. “We now have tested remote sites across the state and can provide remote testimony from any of the sites included therein; additionally it will provide the geographical diversity many members of the Senate sought from this undertaking.”

According to the report, seven of the Senate’s 14 committees have used remote testimony during the 2017 session, with Padden’s Law and Justice Committee leading the way with eight instances. Out of this year’s 28 remote sessions, 20 took place without issues, six saw minor technical issues that did not affect testimony, and two failed due to a configuration change made to address a connection issue. Goodman reported the system has been fixed and is fully functional.

The Senate Trade &Economic Development Committee meets for a work session with remote testifying.

Brown, R-Kennewick and deputy leader of the Senate majority, applauded the Senate’s efforts and called on the House of Representatives to do more to open up government to citizens east of the Cascades.

“Thanks to the hard work of our Senate administration and committee chairs, more citizens are able to participate in the legislative process from locations in the Tri-Cities, Moses Lake and Spokane instead of having to make the dangerous, time-consuming and costly trip to Olympia via the mountain passes in the middle of winter,” said Brown. “The failure of the House to respond in kind to the needs of these citizens is discouraging. Quite frankly, it is unacceptable. We must open the legislative process – in both the Senate and the House – to more Washingtonians, and the reluctance to do so on the part of the House must change.”