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State Sen. Mark Schoesler blocks Inslee’s proposed extension of emergency rules on domestic violence orders

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, left, talks with Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, right, after they took part in the AP Legislative Preview, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Billig has criticized Schoesler for declining to sign off on the extension of an emergency order issued by Gov. Jay Inslee related to domestic violence protection orders. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

OLYMPIA – Republican leaders balked over the weekend at extending one of the emergency orders that suspend different laws during the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting a debate over who’s protecting victims of domestic violence versus who’s protecting the rule of law.

An emergency order signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on April 10 changed the way temporary protective orders can be served against a person accused of domestic violence and also removed a 14-day time limit for a hearing on whether to extend the protective order for up to a year.

It allowed the order to be served electronically rather than requiring it be served in person, and required the judge to “set a hearing” without limiting the time period to 14 days. It also allowed hearings to be held “by video, audio or telephonic means” rather than requiring them to be held in person.

Inslee’s emergency proclamation said the goal was to allow the courts to conduct hearings while using social distancing measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

But a governor’s emergency order can only last for 30 days unless the House speaker and minority leader and the Senate majority and minority leaders all agree to extend it. Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, both Democrats, agreed to extend it another month. House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox was willing to extend it for additional review until Monday and Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler was against any extension.

That prompted a swift condemnation by Jinkins and Billig, who said it “defies understanding” that Republicans refused to extend the proclamation.

“We find it incomprehensible that the Senate Republican leadership would refuse to approve extending a common-sense proclamation protecting victims of domestic violence, stalking, harassment and sexual violence,” they said in a news release.

Inslee said the extension had the support of groups that represent prosecutors as well as police chiefs and sheriffs, and accused Republicans of turning their backs on victims.

In a news release of his own, Schoesler called the criticism “cheap shots and completely off the mark.”

Republicans support victims of domestic violence but are concerned about the “open-ended” nature of the proclamation, which sets no time limits on when a hearing must be held to decide whether a temporary protective order can issued for up to a year. To them the order seemed to be suggesting “some day you can have a hearing,” he said in a later interview.

Although he hadn’t heard of instances of unreasonable delays, if the courts have been able to hold the hearings in 14 days, “why would they need to extend” the proclamation, he asked.

Asked whether the refusal to approve the extension of the domestic violence protection order proclamation signaled Republicans would be blocking more extensions, Schoesler said those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Some of the orders are “very innocuous” and not controversial, he added.

Late Monday, Inslee announced legislative leaders had agreed to extend eight emergency proclamations for another month, including those related to long-term care, nursing home transfers and license renewal extensions. A proclamation to increase the number of health care facilities and the supply of hand sanitizer was extended for two months.