Get Involved with Your State Government
Advocacy, an attempt to influence public policy in a way that brings about legislative action or change, is an important part of our democratic process. Legislators look to their constituents to bring information to their attention and to let them know how they want to be represented.
Architects can play a key role in public policy debates and decisions on issues important to the built environment. Architects are both respected by policymakers and looked to for technical knowledge on issues integral to the way our communities function and grow.
When you are passionate about an issue and ready to take action, it’s important to understand the legislative process, key players and how to be strategic in the relationships you develop and tools you utilize to effectively communicate your position. Use this guide to help familiarize yourself with the methods of engagement. Decide the issue(s) for which you’d like to advocate, determine the officials with which you’d like to contact and decide how you want to engage. Public officials take your input seriously—it’s their job to represent you.
Engaging with Your Elected Officials
While any Washington resident is welcome to contact statewide elected officials such as the governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general, typically the best way to impact state government policy is by contacting your personal state senator or representatives. Compared to federal legislators, Washington state legislators have much smaller staffs and therefore struggle to educate themselves personally about the numerous issues they must address. They welcome the opportunity to hear from knowledgeable constituents, and as a result your input can matter a great deal at the state level. Often, the best time to meet with your representatives is outside of the legislative session, when they are less busy and can focus on larger-picture issues.
During the legislative session, AIA Washington Council will ask individual members to testify on specific bills that the Council is tracking. If you are interested in testifying on a specific topic, or just coming to Olympia during the session and meeting with your representatives, contact Jeffrey Hamlett, Executive Director of AIA Washington Council or Kirsten Smith, Manager of Advocacy for AIA Washington Council and AIA Seattle. They can help with making legislator appointments, providing talking points or supplying background information on legislation or policy issues.
Washington’s District System
State legislative districts in Washington are divided into 49 districts with roughly equal population. Each district is represented by one elected senator and two elected representatives. Become familiar with who your senator and representatives are and which communities other than yours make up their district. (If you personally know a state legislator or one of their staff, please let Jeffrey Hamlett or Kirsten Smith know of this connection—it may be very useful for our advocacy.) Be aware of what committees they sit on and therefore the kinds of issues they are most focused on. You may want to contact one of your representatives over the others based on the body in which they serve (House or Senate), their political party, their committees or what bills they have introduced or co-sponsored.
The Legislative Session
The legislative session in Washington generally runs from January to April in odd years and January to March in even years. If the state budget has not been completed by the scheduled end of session, one or more special sessions may be called by the governor until a final budget has been passed. The budget must be completed by July 1 for the state government to continue to be funded. Legislative sessions run in two-year increments, called bienniums, starting with the odd year. Bills that have not survived the odd year session are technically still alive until the end of the even year session.
Passing the state’s budget is one of the most important tasks of the legislature. In this process, the legislature and the governor’s office work separately to create an overall budget each biennium. In odd numbered years, the legislature passes three budgets – Operating, Capital and Transportation – which together make up the state’s budget for the next two years. A Supplemental Budget is passed in even numbered years.
- The Operating Budget is a two-year plan for funding all ongoing state activities except for construction and transportation.
- The Capital Budget includes appropriations made to state and local agencies for building and construction projects, such as public schools and universities, parks, prisons, etc.
- Transportation Budget items are in a separate budget because the money does not come out of the state’s general fund. Instead, this budget is mostly user-funded and based on revenue from gas taxes, permits, licenses and other fees.
You can track state legislation by bill number, author, or key word here: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/
All legislative sessions and committee meetings in Olympia are open to the public. Information about visiting the Legislature can be found here: http://leg.wa.gov/legislature/pages/comingtothelegislature.aspx.
For more information about how the State Legislature operates, review the following resources:
- Overview of the legislative process in Washington
- How a bill becomes a law in Washington
- A citizen’s guide to the Washington state budget
- Agendas, schedules, and calendars
Contacting Your State Legislators
Calls, letters, visits and town hall meetings offer effective avenues for influencing your state legislators and state officials. You can also comment on specific bills on the state’s bill tracking website.
You can call your legislator at any time, day or night, and leave a message. While all legislators maintain both a home and an Olympia office, it is best to call Olympia during the legislative session. If a live person answers the phone, take the opportunity to ask the legislator’s position on your issue. Be prepared to leave your name, state legislative district, and a succinct statement about what you are seeking (vote yes on bill A).
You can send a letter, postcard, fax or email to your legislator at their Olympia or district office. If you have expertise or a personal story related to your issue, share it. Legislators can’t know every issue in detail, and they welcome the opportunity to be educated by their constituents.
Each year in late January or early February, the AIA Washington Council organizes Capital Connections, an opportunity for architects across the state to meet in Olympia, learn about issues impacting the industry and visit their state legislators. Capital Connections is a great introduction to state politics.
Between legislative sessions, the AIA Washington Council also organizes visits with state legislators. The primary purpose of these meetings is to help you engage with your state legislators and to allow them to meet you and to understand what we as architects do. It is the AIA Washington Council’s goal to have our state legislators view architects as valuable advisors on built environment issues. Depending on the year, we may also ask members to advocate for or against a specific legislative issue. Members will be provided with our position statements and talking points on the issue if asked to advocate on specific legislation.
Outside of these opportunities, you can, on your own, set up an appointment to meet your state legislators either in Olympia during session or in their home districts when they are not in session. Contact the office ahead of time, tell them briefly what you would like to talk with the legislator about and request an appointment. When you visit, you may meet with either the legislator or a staff person. Use the meeting to share your personal expertise or experiences related to the issue or bills you care about. State legislators often rely on their constituents to help them understand the wide range of issues they must address. Legislators may offer feedback on what political factors may be impacting your issue or which legislators should also be contacted to impact your issue – take notes and share this information with AIA Washington Council staff.
Town Hall Meetings
State legislators usually schedule town hall meetings in their home district that are open to all constituents. These meetings are not held during the months of the legislative session. Call your legislator’s office to ask when the next one is scheduled, then come prepared to ask questions and state your concerns.
Statewide and State Legislative Elected Officials
Governor Jay Inslee (D)
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
Email form: www.governor.wa.gov/contact/contact/send-gov-inslee-e-message
Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib (D)
Office of the Lieutenant Governor
PO Box 40400
Olympia, WA 98504-0400
Phone: (360) 786-7700
Fax: (360) 786-7749
Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D)
PO Box 40100
Olympia, WA 98504-0100
Phone: (360) 753-6200
Email form: fortress.wa.gov/atg/formhandler/ago/ContactForm.aspx
Washington State Legislators
- Find your district: app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder
- Senators: leg.wa.gov/Senate/Senators/Pages/default.aspx
- Representatives: leg.wa.gov/House/Representatives/Pages/default.aspx
- Legislator emails: app.leg.wa.gov/memberemail/
- Legislative Committees: leg.wa.gov/legislature/Pages/CommitteeListing.aspx