Kitty cats –
We’ve passed the last and final cutoff. That means bills are either dead, headed to the Governor’s desk, or are headed through concurrence—which is where the House and Senate reconcile their respective versions. Four of Our Top Five are currently in concurrence.
This week, we’re also digging into all things legislative staff. We talk a lot, rightfully so, about legislators: how to influence them, who they are, what they do. This week, though, we’re focusing on the staff at the legislature.
Scroll, scroll, scroll!
(◕‿◕✿) make LAs ur BFFs (◕‿◕✿)
Legislators aren’t the only folks who make important calls in Olympia. This week, we’re looking at legislative staff and their role in the legislative process.
TL;DR: Be nice to legislative staff and utilize them in the process. Everybody wins.
In recent years, legislative staff have been in the news after a bill failed during the 2022 session that would have allowed them to unionize. It’s well known that the leg is a tough gig and that not much is being done to improve matters. From what we hear, there are demands for pay increases this year but not much hope for unionization. As you’d imagine, most Democratic staff are onboard and Republican staff aren’t particularly interested. While no one has explicitly come out against unionization, it’s a good bet that (Democratic) Leadership hopes that, if they drag their feet enough, the troublemakers will turn over and the institutional knowledge and union momentum will disappear. Union-busting 101.
It’s not a great look that the body responsible for policy that impacts all Washington workers can’t even prioritize taking care of their own workers. It’s poor management. It’s disgraceful behavior from some of our state’s most powerful Democrats who were elected by working people.
Legislative staff play an important role in Olympia. They do the day to day work: schedule meetings, read bills, meet community members, and generally keep the trains running. It’s a good bet that the staffer knows more than the legislator about the issue you’re working on. While they aren’t decision makers, they often have a lot of influence over the decision makers and process itself.
So who are these important workers and why do they want to work at the leg? Legislative staffers are disproportionately young, white, privileged and educated.
Why do they opt to work at a place with long hours, low pay and a difficult work environment? Some are at the legislature to bring change on an issue that’s important to them. Some are there to gain their own power, network, and use the legislature as a stepping stone to other positions.
So what are the different types of staff in Olympia and what do they do? There are really four levels of staff:
👩🏻💻Legislative Assistants (LAs): LAs staff individual members of the House and Senate. In many ways, they serve as an extension of the legislator they work for—taking meetings, briefing members, and more. On the House side, these roles are consistently understaffed and have higher turnover. On the Senate side, there’s more consistent staffing with longer tenures. It’s no coincidence that the House is where progressive policies come from, and the Senate is where they go to die. The trends in staffing reflect the larger trends of these two bodies. While legislative assistants sometimes only work one session, they often staff a member through a full year or several, shaping priorities along the way.
🎒Session Aides (SAs): SAs often report to LAs and are short-term backup staff who help with the demands and volume of a single legislative session. They’re pinch hitters who are brought in to get extra work done when the pace picks up.
🏊Pooled Caucus Staff: All four caucasus across both chambers have partisan, political staff. They advise, help set strategy, and work to advance their leadership’s agenda. Whereas LA and SA mandates are generalized, Pooled Caucus Staff have expertise in and work on specific functions (like communications) or a particular topics (like finance). Advocates should know caucus staff. Caucus staff have influence.
👨🏼💼Committee Staff: There are also staff members who work for the legislature itself, specifically each committee. These are non-partisan roles meant to provide accurate, unbiased research, information, and support. Think of the folks who read and give information on a bill at the top of a hearing, for example. These folks can work with advocates but cannot play politics. Often that means they’re able to provide research or data, assist in information gathering, or clarify policy details.
Engaging legislative staff is a really important part of advancing your priorities at the legislature. These industrious and diligent workers—who, shout it again for the people in the back, remain underpaid and non-unionized—are what keep the whole machine running. And we haven’t even gotten to the interns! Legislative staff and interns are often the lowest ranking folks in the room, but they usually know the most about why any given room is the way it is. Don’t be a Karen. Collaborate with them—you’ll likely find an invaluable partner in the work.
What do you think? Have any questions? Tweet us your thoughts @WACommAlliance.
Keep up on the action and opportunities to get involved through our legislative newsletter, The Tally.