Update from Olympia – Holding Government Accountable

Greetings Friends,

Although the Legislature is not in session, I’m still working hard for you. I’ve been hearing a lot from constituents asking what we as legislators are doing to push back on the governor’s executive actions. That has been challenging – because we are not in session, we can’t introduce legislation in response. So far all we’ve able to do is write letters to the governor voicing our frustration and concerns about decisions he’s made (or hasn’t made). I liken this to writing letters to Santa: I don’t get a response from Santa, and I don’t get a response from the governor.

That is why I have been working to gain bipartisan support for something that would be historic: to have legislators call themselves into a “special session”. Under Washington’s constitution, the governor can call a special session at any time for any reason. The Legislature is also allowed to call itself back to Olympia, as long as it’s for a specific purpose. In this case, the purpose would be to respond to the governor’s proclamations and address the major budget issues caused by the governor’s shutdown of most of our state economy.

I represent you – and you need to have your voices and concerns heard in a meaningful way. We need to have legislative oversight and put forth ideas that reflect your values, keep families safe and reopen our economy. Calling ourselves into a special session would check all those boxes.

The most important question we have to ask is: Is the emergency over? The proclamation powers of the governor take effect when there is a declared emergency. At the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak, many of us believed there was an emergency. As time went on, we have been able to establish protocols to reduce the number of deaths and infection rates (“flatten the curve”) so as not to overwhelm our health care system, yet these onerous restrictions continue. If there is no emergency, there is no authority for the governor to continue these dictates.

I’ve been vocal about the need for the Legislature to do more to protect your rights and ensure your state government is accountable. Just as much as we are fighting to stop the spread of COVID-19, we need to fight to save our economy. It’s possible to do both. Businesses have demonstrated that with safety protocols in place we can do our shopping and contain the spread of the virus.

My biggest objection is to the governor unilateral picking of winners and losers. It seems that every time we see some progress, he moves the goal posts – to use an expression – about when to allow certain businesses to reopen, while denying others.

For instance, I’m not against big, chain retailers, but if they get to remain open because their merchandise includes (but isn’t limited to) food, that hardly seems fair to our smaller hometown businesses that offer similar merchandise with the exception of food. If you can go shopping at a big-box store with 300 other people, you certainly can go shopping at your local business with 4 or 5 people in the store.

Also, the governor’s lengthy shutdown of residential and commercial construction while allowing construction on government low-income housing, Sound Transit and the Key Arena was inconsistent and wreaked havoc on our economy. A new estimate this week projects a shortfall of nearly $7 billion in the state’s four-year budget outlook. That needs to be addressed before the next legislative session in January. Calling ourselves into a special session would allow us to get started on that.

To top it off, Washington was the only state in the nation to completely shut down outdoor-recreation activities like fishing and golf, even though those can certainly be done with physical distancing.

We need consistent and thoughtful approaches that are missing from the governor’s new four-phase plan. The bottom line is that while some point to these extreme actions as saving lives from COVID-19, the same actions are taking an extreme toll on the mental and physical health of Washingtonians. The suicide rate has increased, as have reports of domestic violence and child abuse; these tragic facts aren’t likely to change as long as the economic challenges continue.

This will be the last e-news update you’ll receive from me due to election-year restrictions. I can still be available to help with your state government if you reach out to me. I’ll continue to be a voice for accountability where I can and push state leaders to think more broadly about the implications of keeping Washington shut down for another month.

Salute to Health Care Workers!

A wing of the U.S. Air Force from Joint Base Lewis McChord  will be doing flyovers throughout western Washington tomorrow (May 8) as a thank-you to health-care workers. I also extend my gratitude to those on the front lines, caring for patients during this challenging time.




It is an honor to serve you and my office is here to help you with any questions you may have about your state government.


Phil Fortunato,

Your 31st District State Senator