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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State Senate passes resolution extending COVID-19 emergency orders in first debate of many on virus restrictions

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, reads from a copy of the state constitution Jan. 11 at the Capitol in Olympia. Padden is one of four members on the Senate’s new Freedom Caucus.  (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Senate voted Wednesday to extend Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency orders until the COVID-19 state of emergency is over, despite stiff Republican opposition.

In the Legislature’s first virtual floor debate, Republicans introduced two amendments to the emergency order resolution: one that would extend the proclamations until Jan. 27 and another that would require the entire state to move to Phase 2 in the reopening plan before any emergency proclamations could be extended.

It will likely be the first of many debates this session regarding the governor’s emergency orders and COVID restrictions.

According to state law, governors’ emergency proclamations cannot be extended for longer than 30 days without approval from the Legislature. If the Legislature is not in session, House and Senate leadership can extend them. Through the past interim, leaders in all four caucuses have extended Inslee’s proclamations, but Republicans have long criticized Inslee for “overstepping” and implementing emergency orders that have shut down businesses and indoor dining without consulting the Legislature.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, supported both amendments, criticizing Inslee for continuing to use executive powers for these proclamations instead of consulting with the Legislature in a special session.

“This is why you see such pent-up anxiety and concern from people throughout the state and members on this side of the aisle,” Padden said.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said Republicans were conflating two different issues regarding opening up the economy and the proclamations in this resolution, which he called “common-sense bipartisan-supported proclamations.” The proclamations include waiving in-person driver’s license renewal, prohibiting long-term care facilities visitors, allowing pharmacy students to administer vaccines and waiving the state’s prohibition on single-use plastic bags.

Still, Republicans said they didn’t have issue with the proclamations themselves, only that they had an “indefinite” end date. The resolution allows the proclamations to stay in place until the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted.

“The flaw is that ‘emergency’ is undefined,” House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox told reporters Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader John Braun of Centralia agreed, saying he would have no problem extending the proclamations for two weeks at a time, if it meant the Legislature could weigh in.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, told reporters there are proclamations in the resolution that no one disagreed with, so they should automatically continue throughout the state of emergency. It wouldn’t make sense to keep renewing them, she said.

Democrats also argued the resolutions were supported by both sides throughout the interim when all four leaders were required to sign them. The proclamations had “four-corner agreement” and would continue to help the people of Washington get through the pandemic, said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond.

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.