Senate majority’s obstruction disastrous for jobs and public safety

Law enforcement leaders weigh in on vaccine mandates

The Senate Democratic Majority has all but ensured that the Legislature will not be able to call itself into a special session in time to stop the governor’s plan to terminate hundreds, maybe thousands of state employees on Oct. 18 who have not received their COVID-19 vaccinations.

After missing a critical deadline to vote on a historic legislative special session, state Senate leadership finally responded to official inquiries from Senate Freedom Caucus members, who have been leading the effort. Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig said in an email that he does not support even convening the committee for a vote.

“Washington families are suffering and Democrats in Olympia refuse to allow a special legislative session to address the many pressing problems we face,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.  “Now is not the time for leaders to hide in their basement collecting their paychecks while others suffer, while others are losing their jobs, while inflation is escalating, while energy prices are skyrocketing, while our communities are seeing spiking crime rates, while a failed long term care tax needs to be repealed, while home/auto insurance rates are going up by double digits, and while constituents are demanding answers. Leaders do not hide. Leaders rise up to the challenges of our day. We need a special emergency session now.”

New issues continue to arise ahead of the 2022 legislative session that Freedom Caucus members say must be addressed sooner rather than later. In a resolution submitted Aug. 31 to the Senate Rules Committee, the first step in the process, the Legislature was to convene briefly to address the state’s COVID vaccine mandate, and critical public safety policies.

“I’m deeply disappointed that the Senate majority doesn’t have the political courage to convene the Rules Committee so that members can openly debate and vote on the issue,” said Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn. “We are now going on 600 days without any meaningful oversight of the state’s executive and seeing the effects of so many bad policies that can’t wait to be addressed. Doing nothing means that livelihoods of families are in jeopardy and communities will continue to see higher crime.”

Local law enforcement groups are expressing their frustration with local mandates and the inaction of the Legislature. Public safety professionals from around the state have denounced the recent reforms that are viewed as tying the hands of police, putting the public at greater risk.

“It is disappointing that the legislative majority isn’t interested in a special legislative session to address our state’s profound public safety issues,” said Mike Sloan, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild president. “Recently passed police reform bills have left law enforcement confused and hesitant to police. This situation has led to low morale and has unfortunately played a role in our critical staffing shortage. Sadly, this has been amplified with the vaccine mandate. I’m fearful that if these issues do not get addressed, our public safety crisis will further deteriorate and our quality of life will suffer.”

“The King County Police Officers Guild is saddened by the loss of the brave men and women whose employment will be terminated for deciding not to take a vaccine,” said Bob Lurry, the Guild’s vice president. “We are losing experienced law enforcement officers that are very difficult to replace. This heavy handed and ill-timed mandate will accelerate the staffing crisis we are already seeing in policing around the state and will make us all less safe.”

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley and ranking member on the Senate Law and Justice Committee, agreed, saying the Inslee Administration has taken one of the most extreme positions in the nation on vaccine mandates by not even allowing for testing as an alternative.

“Rather than listening to the concerns of law enforcement organizations, Governor Inslee is actually doubling down on his top-down approach,” said Padden. “Firing dedicated public safety personnel, who are already-stressed, not only impacts them but also their families who are dependent on them for food and shelter.”

The impeding employment, social service, and public safety crisis precipitated by the mass layoffs means that the Legislature can’t wait until the regular session in January 2022.

“The case for a special session gets stronger and stronger,” said Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham. “The new restrictions on policing passed by this year’s Legislature are clearly unworkable, and now we face the chilling possibility that law enforcement and other public employees will be fired by decree of the governor. When will our colleagues finally be ready to admit they have a problem?