(State Rep. Mike Chapman, photo courtesy of Washington State Legislature)
The 2021 legislative session, scheduled to begin on January 11th, will be unlike any in history as the state continues to feel the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The leadership from both chambers announced in late 2020 that the 2021 session will, for the most part, be conducted virtually. The result: all bill testimony will be collected over video platforms as an overwhelming majority of lawmakers will work remotely. In addition, other than a select few presiding officers, the floor debates and voting also will be conducted over the internet.
This virtual format will create new opportunities for citizen participation by not having to come to Olympia to testify. But the remote lawmaking also means less access to legislators by residents, lobbyists, and their legislative colleagues. Lawmaking has always been a face-to-face, in-person pursuit. Virtual lawmaking will be a challenge for everyone.
Legislative leaders, in recognition of that reality, have signaled an agenda that is primarily focused on a handful of issues and legislation that cannot wait for 2022. COVID-19 response, economic recovery, social justice, public health and climate will be the top issues, along with passing a new state budget.
The Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) government relations team also is planning a streamlined agenda given the expected narrow scope of the session. There are three primary issue areas where the WFPA expects to spend most of its time: climate, wildfire prevention and taxes.
There is an expected big push for additional carbon legislation, and the WFPA will continue to team up with industry partners to build on the concepts detailed in last year’s forest industry carbon bill. Washington’s working forests play an essential role in removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. WFPA will continue to help policymakers recognize that an intact forestry product supply chain and forestry sector is needed to ensure the long-term viability of sustainably managed forests.
There also is an anticipated request for additional resources to prevent wildfires and enhance the health of the state’s forests following another headline-grabbing fire season. The WFPA will engage in that conversation and attempt to help chart a path toward less intense future fire seasons.
With a $4 billion budget gap, many lawmakers will be looking to new revenue sources and taxes to help balance the budget. WFPA will continue its efforts to help insulate forest landowners from any new revenue proposals that disproportionally affect the industry.
We also will remain vigilant, standing guard for any new proposal that is not on the radar yet. There are always a few of those each year.
Finally, we will be welcoming a new Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) will be taking over the gavel come session. This is the committee that reviews and writes most of the policy issues that are of the most concern to forest landowners. Rep. Chapman represents the 24th District, which is most of the Olympic Peninsula and the northern coast. He has championed important issues for forest landowners in the past and we are eager to work with him in this new role.
Each session develops its own, unique stories and narratives. This one will certainly be no different with its historic virtual setting. Watch this space for updates as the Legislature starts its business.