Washington’s legislative process is confusing and inaccessible on purpose. In every state, legislative processes were designed to make changing the status quo difficult. Part of the built-in inaccessibility is the sheer volume of specialized terminology and lingo you need to know to be able to follow what’s happening in the state legislature.

Our goal is to make the process more accessible. Hopefully, this glossary of legislative terms will help you navigate the process, or at least more easily follow what’s going on in the state legislature — if you have questions or more words to add to this list, don’t hesitate to reach out at info@povertyaction.org

Bill – A proposal for a new law or changes to a current law.  

Did you see the bill about cash assistance? If it passes it would be really helpful for my family.  

Chambers – The two parts of the state legislature: the Senate and the House of Representatives 

I sure hope both chambers agree and pass good policy this year.  

Constituent – Anyone represented by a legislator – that’s you! Everyone who lives within a certain district is represented by those legislators, regardless of immigration status.  

I am a constituent of the 36th district. It’s my legislator’s job to represent what I want. 

Committee – Smaller, topic-based groups of legislators, in each chamber. Each bill will be assigned to the committee that fits it the best. For example, bills related to education are heard by the Education committee. You can find a full list of committees here.  

The Human Services committee will be hearing our cash assistance bill this afternoon. 

Fiscal Committee—This is the committee that focuses on the costs of each bill. Their job is to decide if they think the bill is worth the cost. There’s one fiscal committee in each chamber:  

  • Appropriations (House of Representatives)  
  • Ways & Means (Senate) 

Dental Therapy has its fiscal committee hearing today in Appropriations. I hope the committee can see that it’s worth the cost! 

Fiscal Note – The estimated cost of doing what a bill proposes. These are calculated by a separate office, the Office of Financial Management.  

The bill’s fiscal note says that if the Guaranteed Basic Income pilot program is passed this session, it would cost $100 million dollars.  

Executive Session – A committee meeting where they vote on bills. Bills must be voted or passed “out of committee” to keep moving.  

Our Dental Therapy bill is up for Executive Session this week in the Healthcare committee – I hope they vote yes and pass it! 

Floor vote – This is the chance for all of the legislators in a chamber to vote on a bill. They call it a floor vote because all the lawmakers are sitting at their desks on the floor of their chamber.  

Our bill had a really good floor vote! 94 representatives voted to pass the bill and only 4 voted against it. 

Law – When a bill survives the legislative session and is signed by the governor it becomes a law. This means …policy decided by legislators and legally enforceable.  

Legislators (“Lawmakers”) – Senators and Representatives, who are voted into office by their district. There are 49 Senators, who are in office for 4 year terms, and 98 Representatives, who are in office for 2 year terms. Find out who your legislators are here!   

I hope the legislators this year can agree that we should all be able to get help when we need it to provide for our basic needs.  

Legislative Assistant (LA) – The assistant to a legislator who usually helps with scheduling meetings and tracking bills that matter to them. LAs do a lot of work behind the scenes and are often the key communication point for legislators.  

I couldn’t get ahold of my legislator, but I talked to her LA and she’s going to schedule a meeting for us.  

Legislative Districts – The state is divided into 49 districts which each have one senator and two representatives. These lines are typically drawn by geography and population.  Find your district here!  

I just moved into the 8th Legislative District. Can you tell me anything about our lawmakers?  

Legislative Session (“Session”) – The one time each year when state legislators meet to change laws and write the budget. Session begins every 2nd Monday of January. 

  • Long Session happens on odd numbered years for 105 days and they write the 2-year budget. 
  • Short Session happens on even numbered years for just 60 days and they adjust the budget. 
  • Special Session rarely happens and can only be called by Governor. 

It’s finally legislative session! There are some things that really use a change now.  

Policy – The definition of policy is dependent on the context you are using it in. When we talk about policy, we mean the guidelines used for how things work, or ideas to solve or prevent state wide issues. 

Policy Committee(s) – A committee focused on specific topics or areas such as Human Services, Healthcare, Environment & Natural Resources, Law & Justice, Housing, and more! Their job is to decide if the bill is a good policy idea.  

The policy committee passed our bill to improve cash assistance for adults with disabilities! I’m glad they agree it’s a good idea.  

Proviso – An item in the budget that is not connected to a bill. It is a change in dollars, not law. 

We might not get the full Guaranteed Basic Income into law this year, but there is a proviso that would at least fund a study to see if it would be possible.  

Public Hearing – A committee meeting where bills are explained, and the public gets a chance to talk about why the committee should support the bill or not (i.e. give testimony). This is one good opportunity for people to tell their personal stories and share why things matter to them.  

Are you planning on speaking in the public hearing on dental care this week? I think lawmakers might support it more if they knew my story.   

Rule – The word rule can mean different things depending on the context. When we use this word we mean how an agency (for example: DSHS, DCYF, etc.) decides to put a policy into practice. 

Rules Committee –The Rules committee is where a group of legislators sit in a circle and all get to choose their favorite one or two bills to move forward. Whatever bill they choose (or pull) gets to go on the consideration list for a floor vote. Fun fact: Rules committee meetings are not televised on TVW.org, but all other committees are.  

I asked one of the members of the Rules committee to pull our bill for a floor vote. Fingers crossed!  

State legislature – The name for the whole group of legislators in the state who are voted into office by their legislative districts to create laws and write the budget.  

The Statewide Poverty Action Network advocates in the Washington State Legislature, while other nationwide groups advocate in the national legislature. 

State Budget – The state’s plan for how it will spend its money for the next two years (a biennium). There are 3 different budgets within the State Budget: Transportation, Capital (brick and mortar things), and Operating (all Human Services, K-12, etc.; generally, programs and people). 

This year we’re advocating for more money in the state budget to help people and families exit poverty.  

Testimony – What someone says when they speak up during a public hearing. This is one way where people can share their opinions on bills and can either be done verbally or written. When you give testimony, you are typically given between 60 seconds and 2 minutes to share your story and explain why the bill matters to you.  

I heard your testimony today in committee! Thanks so much for sharing your story and helping lawmakers understand why this matters to you.  

Work Session –A committee meeting where larger topics are reviewed in deeper detail. This a time where the committee will ask experts to present on a topic so they can understand it more.   

The Human Services Committee is going to hold a work session on cash assistance programs! This will be a good time for us to help educate them on how things are working and where things can improve.