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Last call before cutoff: Who runs the show?

By February 11, 2021February 19th, 2021Blog


There are 147 state Senators and Representatives in Washington – but in reality, there are a handful of people who have the most power in deciding which bills become law. Here’s who to pay attention to:

🔪 Bill Killers (Rules Committee Chair and Members): Once a bill passes through its first committee, it goes to the Senate and House rules committees. Because the legislature doesn’t have endless time to debate bills, they set the terms of discussion—often what and how amendments can be tacked on during debate. Rules committee members all have the power to pull bills forward or drag their feet to try to kill a bill. But the shrewdest rules committee members know how to balance the running clock of session with the perceived controversy around a bill to kill it without seeming like a foregone conclusion.

💰 Money Makers (Appropriation and Ways & Means Chairs): All roads lead to the House Appropriations and Senate Ways & Means committees—well, every bill that needs funding. If your bill needs money, it needs to become a priority of one of these committee members. An added layer of pressure too: there’s only one week between committee cutoff and fiscal cutoff. That means by 2/22, you need to get your bill to the top of the pile. All committee chairs have great power because they decide what gets discussed and when. If your bill is a priority for them, it will likely get through the committee. Pay attention to Rep. Timm Ormsby (D-3rd LD) and Sen. Christin Rolfes (D-23rd LD).

🏀 Shot Callers (Leadership): Leadership in the House and Senate set the stage for the whole play that is legislative session. The Majority Leaders Rep. Lauri Jinkins (D-27th LD) and Sen. Andy Billig (D-3rd LD) are, along with other members of leadership like, elected by their respective caucuses. They appoint every committee chair, and they decide what makes it to the floor of their chambers for a vote. (For example, after a bill passes the bill-killers on the Rules committee, Senator’s must asure Floor Leader Marko Liias it has the votes needed to pass before it gets to the floor.) The role of leadership is both bureaucratic and political. They track legislation, but also protect caucus members up for re-election. If they oppose your bill, it will never see the light of day (unless you can create a political scenario in which they feel they have no other choice but to bring it to the floor).

The takeaway: If you want to get your bill through, focus your efforts on the right people! Pitch your bill to members of the Rules committee, members of Appropriations / Ways and Means if it needs funding, and party leadership. Make sure it’s on their priority list. If you’re pitching your bill to other legislators who aren’t key decision-makers, you may be losing critical time.

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