Washington state legislators locked out of offices over vaccine rule

More than two dozen members of the state House of Representatives in standoff with Gov. Jay Inslee.
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee.
Elaine Thompson - Pool/Getty Images

More than two dozen members of the Washington state House of Representatives have been locked out of their capitol offices this week for failing to provide proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19.

The rule went into effect Monday, the same day Gov. Jay Inslee had set as a deadline for state employees to be fully vaccinated or risk losing their jobs. By Tuesday, nearly 1,900 state employees had either been fired, quit or retired as a result.

Some 26 state representatives so far have not submitted documentation showing that they are fully vaccinated.

While legislators and their staffs were not subject to Inslee’s mandate, the House Executive Rules Committee, which is composed of four Democrats and three Republicans, put the policy in place at the end of September.

All four Democrats – Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Reps. Pat Sullivan, Lillian Ortiz-Self and Monica Stonier – voted in favor with the three Republicans – Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox and Reps. Joel Kretz and Paul Harris – opposed.

According to Bernard Dean, chief clerk of the House, the policy is in place only for the 2021 legislative session and no decision has been made on extending it for the 2022 session, which begins Jan. 10.

The Senate has not adopted a similar policy, but is expected to make a decision soon regarding the 2022 session.

“In general, this vaccination verification is not mandatory, nor is it a condition of employment for members,” Dean said in a statement. “We have already re-established access for two members who have submitted the appropriate documentation since Monday’s deadline and expect that many more will do so in the coming weeks and months.”

Dean also noted that the vast majority of legislators and staff have been working remotely during the pandemic and few have sought access to their offices during that time.

Republican Rep. Jim Walsh, who represents the Aberdeen area, posted a video Tuesday showing himself unable to access the House office building using his identification badge, which doubles as a key card. Walsh called the rule a “slippery slope toward lawlessness” and “un-American,” saying legislators should act as a check against what he called Inslee’s “unlawful behavior,” rather than following his lead.

Walsh over the summer apologized for wearing yellow Star of David, the symbol Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany, in protest over Inslee’s coronavirus mandates.