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COVID-19

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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Gov. Inslee, let the Legislature help

Gov. Jay Inslee has demonstrated strong leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. Washington had the first significant outbreak in the United States, and Inslee responded decisively during those early crucial days. Now that things have stabilized, however, he needn’t go it alone. State lawmakers are ready to help, and they should have a seat at the table as so many crucial decisions are made.

Four Republican lawmakers last week urged the governor to call a special session of the Legislature. Their request makes sense. Washingtonians elect legislative and executive branches to work together on policy and spending decisions. The governor has some special powers in an emergency, but the goal should always be to set them aside as quickly as possible and reengage with lawmakers. A pandemic does not justify autocratic rule by executive order indefinitely without legislative oversight.

At a minimum, Inslee should be speaking directly with lawmakers from both major parties and all parts of the state. Some video calls are in order. Better, still, call that special session and tap into lawmakers’ expertise. Members of the House and Senate health committees, for example, have deep knowledge and expertise that could help Inslee plan next steps.

During a special session, the Legislature also could pass bills and make spending decisions that the governor can’t – or shouldn’t – make alone. Inslee prudently trimmed state spending in anticipation of revenue shortfalls, but the Legislature could do more comprehensive budget restructuring to prepare for tough times ahead. Lawmakers also could collaborate to roll out recovery programs for communities hardest hit by the economic shutdown.

There would be challenges with the Legislature’s meeting, but not insurmountable ones. The Washington Supreme Court last week demonstrated that Zoom can serve modest-sized remote meetings. Better yet, Olympia could tap into the state’s technology industry. We suspect Microsoft, Amazon or some other tech company would be willing to take on the challenge of implementing a secure video-conferencing system for the Legislature that would allow all members to meet virtually, debate and vote while streaming the proceedings to the public and press.

If Washington does this right, it could serve as a national model for other states that also are trying to figure out how to minimize the risk of spreading a virus among lawmakers. Even the U.S. House of Representatives might be interested as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has flipped and flopped on whether to hold proxy votes.

To their credit, Inslee and his staff have done a good job of reaching out to the business community. They are hearing clearly that the current economic shutdown is having a catastrophic effect on businesses, workers and families. We’re heartened that the governor is talking about how and when to reopen the state. With or without a legislative hearing, we would argue that counties with contact tracing in place and stable to declining incidence of COVID-19 should be allowed to open now.

Establishing robust contact tracing is an essential first step, and this can now happen with the advent of home test kits. If public health officials can track a sick person’s close contacts, they can prioritize tests for them and quarantine those who test positive, preventing them from spreading the virus while asymptomatic. This is the same approach that countries like South Korea have implemented to reduce infection spread while keeping their economies open.

With contact tracing in place, workers and customers can be more confident that transmission is being slowed, the risk of coming closer to other people is declining and that with social distancing practices in place, we can reopen our economies and still be safe.

We already have working models in place in the form of essential businesses. Grocery stores and news media have had good success keeping their workers healthy with work-at-home programs and hyper attention to hygiene and social distancing where work requires in-person contact. Grocery store social distancing practices could work for other retail. Masks and frequent disinfectant wipe downs practiced in The Spokesman-Review press room could work in other manufacturing settings.

Based on lower incidence of COVID-19 infection, Eastern Washington is closer to returning to work than the Puget Sound area, and the governor shouldn’t keep this part of the state closed much longer. He’ll have much greater success developing a strong, phased reopening strategy if he works with the Legislature.

Endorsements and editorials are made solely by the ownership group and publisher of this newspaper. As is the case at most newspapers across the nation, The Spokesman-Review newsroom and its editors are not a part of this endorsement process.

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