OLYMPIA – State and local law enforcement officials will be able to issue citations and penalties if education isn’t enough to close nonessential businesses under the state’s emergency order.
The “vast majority” of Washington residents and businesses are following that order, Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday. But some agencies have received complaints or questions from the public about things they see that might be violations.
The state added a form to its website, www.coronavirus.wa.gov, for people to fill out with complaints or questions about businesses they think should not be open. The city of Spokane has an email address and phone number on its website, my.spokanecity.org/covid19/.
“Please do not call 911,” Inslee said. “That’s for emergencies.”
The first step in handling those complaints or questions will be to tell a business it needs to stop violating the law, Inslee said. If that doesn’t work, a business will be told the state or local government could take action to revoke a permit or the business license. The final step would be to refer the business to the state attorney general’s office to take action for violating the order, which is a gross misdemeanor.
“The last thing we want to do is actually arrest somebody,” Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said.
Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl, who joined Inslee’s news conference through an internet video connection, said his office investigated some reports of nonessential businesses staying open when they shouldn’t and asked them to comply with the order.
“We don’t want to have to go the enforcement route,” Meidl said. He also urged people not to call 911 or Crime Check to report possible violations. The department has a special number, (509) 477-2684, to handle those reports.
“Please don’t confuse our request for voluntary compliance with optional compliance,” Meidl said. Voluntary compliance allows officers to concentrate on criminal activity and public safety, he added.
The order still allows people to travel for emergency or to shop for essentials like food, but they should “be judicious,” he said.
The state is not planning to stop drivers to ask why they aren’t home, although it is asking people to limit their trips, Inslee said. It will be looking at traffic numbers in the coming days.
“It’s still legal to drive a car in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “We need more people to stay home and not go out if it’s not necessary.”
The attorney general’s office also will get involved in complaints from tenants who are evicted during the outbreak for nonpayment of rent. Inslee’s order from March 18 placed a 30-day moratorium on evictions, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said, but his office is getting complaints from tenants about landlords trying to find what he called “creative” ways around that order.
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