A memorable experience: our first visit to the Washington State Capitol in Olympia

On March 3rd, I drove to Olympia with Sharon and Si to attend a public hearing in Washington State Capitol. Fortunately, we also got a chance to talk to assistants of representatives about the bills that we heard during the public hearing. I must say this was an impressive and amazing experience, everything seemed so fresh to us and we’ve learned a lot during the “trip”.

 

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To attend the hearing (which began at 8am) on time, we got up at 5:30am and departed to Olympia at 6:00am. Even though it was super early, there were lots of traffic on I-5. On our way to Olympia, we were excited but also nervous since this was our first time to “participate” in legislative process. We arrived at Washington State Capitol at around 7:30am. When we first arrived there, we couldn’t find the parking lot and hearing room so we asked a staff for help, then we experienced how the staffs welcome the public to know about the place and the legislative process. They were all very friendly and helpful, which gave us a great first expression of the place. By the way, I was so excited since I’ve learn these legislature buildings in another class and I got the chance to see them, it felt amazing that different classes have such connection.

 

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Before the public hearing began

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The public hearing began at 8:00am in first floor of John L. O’Brien Building. There were not many people but these people seemed so familiar with each other, we supposed they may follow these bills since the very beginning.  There were six bills which had been discussed and decided by ballot in that hearing. The HB 1797 and HB 1913 were two bills that I’m most interested in. HB 1797 concerning encouraging affordable housing development and preservation by providing cities limited sales tax remittance for qualifying investments, providing cities and counties authority to use real estate excise taxes to support affordable housing, and providing cities and counties with council manic authority to impose the affordable housing sales tax. After 20 minutes discussion, this bill finally got 9 ayes, 4 nays and 0 excuses. HB 1913 concerning creating a leasehold excise tax exemption for certain leasehold interests in facilities owned or used by schools, colleges, or universities. During the hearing, representatives pointed out that this is a serious and useful bill to promote the development of education system; they also emphasized that this bill should only focus on higher education level such as university and colleges since they played crucial role in our society. The bill was adapted.

 

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The hearing was efficient so it did not take us long time. Since we still had many time left, we started to seek if there was other hearing. We asked the staff who helped us at the beginning and he told us there would be a Caucus debate in Capitol building which began at 9am. We went to the House Gallery on the 4th floor of the building and joined the morning pray. After that, all the representatives left and started their caucus which took more than an hour. During the break, we considered that we may had chance to talk to the representatives or at least their assistants. So we decided to talk to three different people: Si and Sharon talked to the assistants of two representatives of 43rd district. The senator and his assistant of 43rd district was in a meeting so I decided talked to Megan Walsh, the assistant of the representative of 49th district since her desk was next to Curtis Knapp, legislative assistant to representative Nicole Macri, 43rd district and she would like to have a short conversation with me. I told her that I’m interested in the bill- HB 1797 and I appreciated that their effort and decision; the effort on affordable housing is at least moving toward a right direction. I also suggested that adjusting building codes and allowing developer to promote higher density community can be other useful methods for creating more affordable housing. Though Sharon Wylie, the representative of 49th district is more focus on transportation system and public health, her assistant Megan told me they still appreciated that we came all the way down to Olympia and shared our supports to them. She also wrote down my name, the number of the bill that I mentioned and my short suggestion. I don’t know if they would consider my suggestion, I was still very happy that I got a chance to express my idea.

 

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During the debate

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After the short conversation, we went back to the House Gallery and listened the debate. The bills that they talked about that day were more about public housing such as the control of the use of Marijuana and other medicine. It was such a fascinating experience that watching representatives debate and voted. The whole process was transparent and I could clearly know who supported or objected the bills.

 

Overall this was a memorable experience and I really appreciated that I could have a chance to visit the Washington state capitol buildings and “participated” in these serious but interesting process.

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Further info:

HB 1913 http://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1913&Year=2017

HB 1797 http://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1797&Year=2017

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