Rep. Jim Walsh issues statement on governor’s educator vaccination requirement and statewide mask mandate

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee recently announced a vaccination requirement as a condition for employment for employees working in K-12, childcare, early learning, and higher education, and an expansion of the statewide mask mandate for all Washingtonians, regardless of vaccination status.

Most state workers in Washington, as well as private health care and long-term care employees, are also required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination by Oct. 18 — or lose their jobs.

Although the latest mandate covers public, private, and charter schools, it does not include tribal schools.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, assistant ranking Republican on the House Education Committee, issued the following statement on the governor's announcement:

“The governor's latest emergency dictate adds teachers, school employees, and others to his constitutionally dubious gambit to force COVID shots on people. As I've said before, he should expect widespread resistance to this authoritarian abuse of the emergency powers the people of Washington have granted him.

“There are many constitutional and ethical problems with this latest proclamation. But I'll focus on just one: In this dictate, the governor exempts tribal schools from his threatened COVID shot mandate. Teachers and employees at tribal schools won't lose their jobs if they don't get the vaccine. This violates Article 1, Section 12 of the Washington State Constitution, which says:

'No law shall be passed granting to any citizen, class of citizens, or corporation other than municipal, privileges or immunities which upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens or corporations.'

“Of course, the governor might rightly admit that his emergency dictates are not law. But he seems confused and uncertain on that point. One of his supporters, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, stated plainly during the recent press conference that the dictate is the law. So, at the very least, the current governor and superintendent have a problem on this point.

“During the same press conference, the governor acknowledged that medical and religious exemptions to his mandate will still be available, as they must be, under federal law. But there are also some constitutional problems with how these exemptions may be handled. For example, the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) recently released guidelines of how it will process applications for religious exemptions from health care workers threatened with termination from their jobs.

'…the Department of Social and Health Services will need to obtain additional information and/or documentation about your religious practice(s) or belief(s). This may include discussing the nature of your religious belief(s), practice(s), and accommodation with your religion's spiritual leader (if applicable) or religious scholars…'

“This outrageous proposal violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Washington Constitution.

“The governor has been ruling this state single-handedly by emergency proclamation for nearly 600 days. This protracted period of dictates has made his reasoning sloppy and his actions decadent. The people of Washington have had enough. The Legislature needs to re-assert its coequal position as an independent branch of government — the law-making branch — and convene a special legislative session to reform our abused and misused laws on emergency powers.

“All political power is inherent in the people. And governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. For the sake of the people — for the sake of the governed — we need to solve our state's constitutional crisis immediately.”

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov