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Start of Washington’s legislative session will be secure, but safety protocols still under review

Supporters of President Donald Trump breach a perimeter fence outside the Governor’s Mansion, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., following a protest against the counting of electoral votes in Washington, DC, affirming President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. The area was eventually cleared by police.  (KEN LAMBERT/The Seattle Times via AP)

OLYMPIA – The day after pro-Trump protesters forced their way onto the governor’s mansion property here, lawmakers said they were confident the Capitol campus would be safe to conduct Monday’s opening day ceremonies.

But specific safety plans are still in the works.

Most of the legislative session will be virtual this year, given public health protocols due to COVID-19. However, the first day requires legislators to meet in person to vote on rules that allow the rest of the session to be virtual. Given Wednesday’s events, lawmakers and law enforcement agencies are preparing for a protest, but it’s unclear exactly how many people will be there.

Demonstrations scheduled for this week protesting lack of access to the upcoming remote session appear to be canceled, according to the Seattle Times.

“We are committed to having security so legislators can function,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in an Associated Press Legislative Preview on Thursday. “We will provide a secure environment.”

Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins said leaders plan to work with the governor’s office on safety protocols for the next week. She said they had discussed holding first-day ceremonies in other locations, for safety as well as COVID reasons, but the safest place seemed to be the Capitol campus.

“The people we each represent expect us to do our job, and it appears the Constitution requires this to be in person,” House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox said.

But safety plans may change after Wednesday’s events. A peaceful protest of about 400 Trump supporters ended with dozens of protesters opening the gate to the governor’s mansion, walking up to the door and chanting for Gov. Jay Inslee to “open up.”

Washington State Patrol said at the time that Inslee was in a safe location. Law enforcement officers eventually moved protesters behind the gate, but some vowed to return later in the week or early next week to occupy the Capitol.

Inslee said he was at the residence at the time and felt safe there. However, he said he did have questions about why there were not more law enforcement officers at the gate in the first place, and why no arrests were made.

“Those are very legitimate questions,” he told reporters Thursday. “We’re going to have to get answers to those questions.

As for next week, Inslee said he is in conversations with the Washington National Guard and the WSP about safety protocols. As of Thursday morning, he had not decided if he would deploy the National Guard for next week.

Washington State Patrol’s plans for security likely will not be finalized until Friday, spokesman Chris Loftis said in an email. Details still are being decided, as Wednesday’s events likely are changing some of the plans.

Despite security threats, lawmakers said they must continue to do their job and protests will not stop them.

Democrat Sen. Manka Dhingra of Redmond said their “sense of security has changed,” but she believes law enforcement officers will be prepared:

“We have to be able to do our business and not be intimidated and scared.”

Republican Sen. Shelly Short of Addy said she abhorred what happened Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and Olympia, but that she is confident lawmakers will be able to have a safe session:

“In this Washington, we can show there’s a different way to do business.”

Inslee and other leaders agree that democracy will survive. In a speech late Wednesday, Inslee said he was hopeful the country will make it through, but only if Republican leaders stand up to Trump. He later urged the removal of Trump through the 25th Amendment or impeachment.

Jinkins praised the work of the U.S. House and Senate for reconvening and officially declaring Joe Biden the incoming president.

“While our democratic republic is fragile in a lot of ways, it’s also as tough as nails,” Jinkins said.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.