Nearly 96% of bills passed in 2023 received some level of bipartisan support

With such hot button issues as police pursuit reform and drug possession front and center during this year’s session of the Washington State Legislature, partisan rancor was a factor as lawmakers rhetorically duked it out on these and other matters.

From a certain point of view, however, the Legislature was a bastion of bipartisanship this year.

That’s according to a recent analysis from nonpartisan legislative staff that shows nearly 96% of bills that passed the Legislature during the 105-day session had at least some level of bipartisan support. Specifically, of 487 bills passed, 467 garnered at least one “yes” vote from a Republican senator or representative.

“When I’m out in our community talking to people, I think the thing that surprises them most is how much we work together,” Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said in a Thursday news release from Senate Democrats touting the analysis. “I’m so proud of the collaborative spirit of our legislative work, a great example of that was the bipartisan work done on the Blake bill.”

During a May 16 special legislative session, lawmakers passed a permanent fix to the state Supreme Court’s State v. Blake decision on drug laws, less than two months before a stopgap measure keeping the possession of small amounts of drugs outlawed was set to expire.

Lawmakers failed to pass a similar bill before the April 23 end of session, prompting Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session.

Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, partially agreed with Billig’s assessment in an email to The Center Square.

“The Senate was a more bipartisan place this year,” said Wilcox, who in the closing hours of the 2023 legislative session announced he was stepping down from his position as Republican leader in the House. “However I thought the transparent blame game on Sine Die set things back considerably.”

Wilcox was referencing the end of the regular legislative session without a Blake fix.

While a Blake fix bill passed the House of Representatives with amendments, those amendments meant the Senate had to concur before the bill could move forward to be signed into law. The Senate, however, refused to concur with the House amendments and requested a conference.

A compromise between Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans and House Republicans was blown up when House Democrats did not agree to the compromise and decided to put to a vote a version without some of the points in the compromise, which failed to pass the House.

Each side blamed the other.

Democrats noted all 40 House Republicans voted against the bill, while Republicans pointed out 15 House Democrats did the same, meaning Democrats’ 58-member majority wasn’t enough to push the bill across the finish line.

Wilcox referenced this in a social media post earlier this month regarding why Blake fix legislation was passed in a special session and not during the regular session.

“One of my reasons for explaining all this in public is to help people understand how to be effective. And maybe more importantly, how to avoid being an obstacle to success,” he said. “House Republicans were disciplined in the weeks leading up to this special session. They avoided explosive rhetoric before and during the floor action. This is important because the essence of minority party politics is to pursue the things that unite our side of the issue and divide the opposite side. In this case, Democrats were unusually divided on policy. Explosive rhetoric from us would have been the one thing that gave them reasons to rally around the Progressive flag. We wanted the best policy and got it and were willing to forgo the satisfaction of preaching to the choir.”

Billig noted Democrats and Republicans continue to butt heads.

“Of course there are still areas where we disagree with our Republican colleagues,” he said. “Our Democratic majorities have had to go it alone on issues important to Washingtonians such as gun safety, reproductive freedom, tax reform and climate change. But our legislature has shown that we can disagree without being disagreeable, that we can find areas of agreement and government can work as intended.”

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