OLYMPIA — Traveling to Olympia to testify before the legislature can be difficult and dangerous for those who live east of the Cascades. The journey can take upwards of six hours one way, all to testify for as little as 60 seconds.
Advocates for remote testimony say the long drive is too much to ask.
“Hardly a week goes by during session without a warning of severe weather impacting travel across the Cascades,” said Jason Mercier, government reform director for the Washington Policy Center, in a press release. “The ability to participate in the legislative process should not be weather-dependent.”
Remote testimony would allow those who live far from the state capitol to use video-conferencing to testify for or against bills being considered by legislative committees.
The state Senate has had remote testimony since the launch of a pilot project in 2014. Though the House has lagged behind, House Republican Caucus Chair Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said that both legislative chambers will likely see remote testimony by the 2019 session.
Shea said he has been working with the chief clerk of the House to fix the technical barriers to implementing video-conferencing. Though details are still being finalized, testimony would likely be broadcast from the city halls of population centers, such as Spokane, Shea said.
Republicans have been vocal in their support for remote testimony, which would disproportionately benefit people in the rural counties the party often represents.
“I’d love to see [remote testimony],” said Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, vice-chair of the House Republican Caucus. “Why wouldn’t we want more people to be able to participate?”
Schmick lives eight miles from the Idaho border. Residents of his hometown would have to travel over five hours to reach the capitol, assuming there are no road closures or dangerous conditions in the mountain passes.
Remote testimony has support from both sides of the aisle, Shea said.
Neither House Democrat Caucus Chair Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, nor House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, responded before press time to a request for comment.