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4 GOP lawmakers call for a special session to deal with pandemic’s effects

Washington Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, showing speaking on the Senate floor on Jan. 15, 2020, is among a group of Republican lawmakers calling for special legislative session. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

OLYMPIA – Four Republican legislators made a pitch Tuesday for a special session in the near future to help bring the state back from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that lawmakers should call themselves back to the Capitol if Gov. Jay Inslee won’t.

They said they are hearing from people ordered to stay home and off the job, and who now want to get back to work.

“We have to go to Olympia and protect the people we represent,” Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said.

With the state in a crisis, people expect their legislators to be working to help solve it, he said.

Sen. Phil Fortunato, of Auburn, one of several Republicans running for governor, said the current orders on what is open and what is closed lack consistency.

“I can go to Costco, but I can’t play golf. I can go to Costco, but I can’t go fishing,” he said. Legislators have ideas on how to address the economic slowdown and “we need to fight this out on the Senate floor,” he added

While Inslee has said the state may need a special legislative session at some point, there was no mention of it Tuesday evening in his roadmap for lifting the restrictions currently in place on nonessential businesses.

The Washington Constitution allows the Legislature to call itself back into session, but the process is complicated, and hasn’t been used in the history of the state. It would require two-thirds of each house to approve a resolution that spells out what the special session would cover.

Fortunato said he sent an email to each legislator, asking them to indicate whether they’d be willing to call a special session.

Legislative leaders said Tuesday that’s unlikely. House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, said he expects the state will eventually hold a special session, but not until there’s “a pretty rock solid agreement on what we’re considering and what we’re not.”

If legislators are concerned about the budget, they should wait until the state gets its revenue forecast in June, which will show how badly the economic downturn has hurt tax revenues, Wilcox said.

Even if all Republicans in both chambers supported calling a special session, they’d still need a significant number of Democrats, who control both chambers, to reach that two-thirds majority.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said there is “no support” for a special session right now. She said she wouldn’t object to a special session at some point, but “we need to be thoughtful and plan for it.”

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said members of both parties, from both chambers already are working on efforts to address the health and economic problems posed by the pandemic.

“Nothing that we need to do right now needs to be done in a special session,” Billig said. “If a special session is needed at some point, we are working on contingency plans to operate in a safe way.”