By Rep. Laurie Jinkins
Have you ever had an idea for a piece of legislation? As a state lawmaker, constituents often reach out to me with suggestions for bills to fix various problems in our community. I listen carefully to these ideas, because they tend to come from those experiencing the problem firsthand. This gives me valuable insight and helps me put a human face on a particular issue.
Nearly every lawmaker has a story about a law that started with a constituent idea. A few sessions ago, the owner of a local laboratory came to me seeking access to Washington’s Prescription Monitoring Program, a computer system that tracks the prescribing of opiates and allows physicians to learn about patients who may be seeking opioid prescriptions from multiple sources. Unfortunately, not many physicians inquire the system. The laboratory wanted access to the system so they could provide information to physicians ordering the laboratory testing. It took three years to get the bill passed, but today it’s one small piece of the puzzle in addressing the opioid crisis.
An engaged citizenry is vital to a healthy democracy. The actual workings of the legislature, however, can be somewhat baffling to those without insider knowledge. By the time someone contacts me, it’s often too late for me to sponsor legislation, no matter how great their idea is. That’s because people tend to reach out to me after the legislative session is already underway. As much as I welcome their input, it most certainly won’t result in legislation that year.
So when is a good time to contact your state legislator with an idea for a bill?
The answer is now. Although the legislature is not currently in session, lawmakers are looking ahead to 2018 and deciding which bills they plan to introduce. Next month, my colleagues and I will gather in Olympia for Committee Assembly Days, which is when the various legislative committees meet to consider ideas for the upcoming session. Pre-filing of bills begins Dec. 4.
The three committees I serve on in the House – Judiciary, Health Care, and Appropriations – see the highest volume of bills every session. As the chair of the Judiciary committee, I have to make difficult decisions about which bills to grant a public hearing each year. It is simply not possible to hear them all.
Specific cut-off dates exist throughout the session and are essentially set in stone: dates by which a bill must be voted out of committee, by which it must be voted out of its chamber of origin, by which it must be voted out of the opposite chamber. The entire process can seem protracted and complicated, but it ensures nearly every bill that passes the legislature has undergone a thorough vetting process.
Additionally, legislative sessions are either long (105 days in odd-numbered years) or short (60 days in even-numbered years). The cut-off dates in short sessions arrive quickly. Since 2018 will be a 60-day session, bills introduced in a chamber must have a hearing in that chamber by the third week of session in order to keep moving forward.
This information isn’t meant to discourage folks from engaging in the process. In fact, I’m hoping it motivates people to reach out to me sooner rather than later. I want my constituents to know how things work in our state capitol, and be fully aware of the deadlines associated with how a bill becomes a law.
If you have an idea for a bill, now is the time to tell me about it. That’s why I’m offering a number of informal “office hours” in local neighborhoods, as well as more structured “community conversations” with my seatmates, Representative Jake Fey and Senator Jeannie Darneille. These events provide an opportunity for me to hear your ideas on legislative topics and issues of importance to our district
My office hours out in the community are drop in, no appointment necessary. Stop by and meet with me at these locations in October, with more dates coming in November and December:
- Oct. 3, 3:30-5 p.m. at Old Town Markee, 2312 N. 30th St. (North Tacoma)
- Oct. 26, 9:15-11:15 a.m. at Erica Peace Love and Ice Cream, 4822 Pacific Ave. (South End)
- Oct. 31, 9-11 a.m. at Rhapsody in Bloom, 3709 6th Ave. (Central Tacoma)
- The following “community conversations” are an opportunity for a more structured conversation with Senator Darneille, Representative Fey and me:
- Oct. 14, 12-2 p.m. at Black Kettle Bites and Brew, 744 Market St., Suite 102B
- Oct. 19, 3-5 p.m. at Red Elm Café, 1114 Martin Luther King Jr. Way (meeting room in back)
- Dec. 12, 1-3 p.m. at Salishan, 1701 E. 44th St. (in the International Place Common Room)
If none of these dates work for you, I am available to meet one-on-one with constituents as my schedule allows. Contact my legislative assistant, Ann Dasch, at (253) 593-2033 to schedule an appointment.
Unlike Congress, members of our state legislature are not full-time lawmakers and most – including me – have occupations outside the legislature. Things can get busy this time of the year. But I’m always open to ideas to help make our state a better, safer, healthier place for everyone. I hope you’ll reach out to me with yours.
Laurie Jinkins is a public health official from Tacoma who serves as a member of the Washington House of Representatives from the 27th district.