Washington Legislature convenes under tight security

Washington
Ted S. Warren

Members of the Washington National Guard stand along a perimeter fence at the Governor's Mansion, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee activated members of the National Guard this week to work with the Washington State Patrol to protect the Capitol campus ahead of the state Legislature opening its 2021 legislative session Monday, as several protests and rallies are expected.

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Security fencing has been installed around the Washington state Capitol and National Guard members were present Monday as the Legislature was set to convene amid concerns that armed groups might try to occupy the building, which is closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of Washington’s lawmakers are returning as authorities reassess security at state capitols across the country after the violence that occurred last week at the U.S. Capitol.

A right-wing militia initially encouraged its members to occupy the Capitol as the Legislature starts its 105-day legislative session at noon.

Last Wednesday, a group of people broke down a gate outside the governor’s mansion and made it to the porch and front yard. That breach came hours after the siege of the nation’s Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

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While an organizer of the planned occupation in Olympia canceled Monday’s event, he said he expected some people might show up to try to disrupt proceedings.

Early Monday, the Washington State Patrol said one person had been arrested at the Capitol Campus — a woman who used a recreational vehicle to block a roadway and refused to comply with orders to move.

The State Patrol, which oversees security of the Capitol campus, has said there will be a robust police presence to ensure the safety of lawmakers, staff and journalists. Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, activated 750 National Guard members last week to help maintain order.

Democratic Sen. Manka Dhingra expressed concern about the opening day of the session but said she had faith in law enforcement officials who have worked with the Legislature to address security concerns.

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“I think we have to be cautious but I also think it is important that the state see their elected leaders do the job that they were elected to do in a safe way,” she said last week.

Lawmakers are meeting in person largely to adopt rules that will allow them to meet virtually for the rest of the session.

After that, regular Senate floor votes will be conducted in a hybrid format, with a mix of senators present in the chamber and others participating remotely.

The House has decided to do the rest of its work done remotely.

The lawmakers’ agenda includes dealing with issues related to the pandemic — such as support for struggling businesses and renters, and police reform.

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