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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Having fake COVID-19 vaccine card could become crime in Washington if bill passes Legislature

A jogger runs past the Legislative Building just before dusk at the Capitol in Olympia.   (Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – Possessing a fake COVID-19 vaccination card may soon be a crime.

A bill being heard in the Legislature would make it a misdemeanor to knowingly display a fraudulent proof of vaccination, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. It would also make it a class C felony to knowingly sell fake COVID-19 vaccine cards, punishable by up to five years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both.

Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, said he decided to sponsor this bill after hearing about a North Carolina police chief who told officers how to obtain fake vaccine cards. Salomon then began looking into the prevalence of falsifying vaccine cards.

“Unfortunately, it’s out there,” he said at a Senate Law and Justice Committee hearing Monday. “It’s a real thing.”

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 30,000 counterfeit vaccine cards have been recovered from nearly 1,200 seizures nationwide since the start of the pandemic.

This bill follows a similar law in New York that went into effect at the end of last year.

Washington does not have a statewide vaccine mandate but does require state employees, health care workers and educators to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. King County has implemented a vaccine requirement for restaurants, bars, indoor recreation and large outdoor events. Many private businesses statewide have begun doing the same.

At Monday’s committee hearing, Republican Sen. Jim McCune, of Graham, criticized the vaccine mandates in King County and at private businesses, calling them “unconstitutional in law.”

This bill would allow private businesses who choose to, or are required to, check vaccine cards and to involve police if they come across fake cards, Salomon said.

“This is not at all about mandates,” he said.

Still, those who testified against the bill Monday criticized the decision to ask for vaccine verification at all.

Vaccination requirements, similar to other emergency proclamations during the pandemic, are supposed to be temporary, Yakima County Commissioner Amanda McKinney said. Creating a statute that “specifically memorializes” a temporary vaccine mandate could be “a dangerous precedent,” she said.

Teri Rogers Kemp, a Washington criminal defense lawyer, said the bill would punish those who have different cultural beliefs. She said because King County is the only county currently requiring this, a bill like this may have inequitable effects statewide.

Though the federal government has said it is illegal to buy or make fake vaccine cards, Salomon said Monday it’s difficult to ask the FBI to investigate a complaint that comes from a local level.

The bill is scheduled for a vote out of committee Thursday.

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.