Lawmakers renew their call for special session to address pandemic’s impact on business owners and workers

Dec 7, 2020

More than 50 lawmakers in House and Senate sign formal request

Republican leaders in the state Legislature have again called for a special session to deal with emergency issues related to public health and support for small business and their employees who are suffering from the economic impacts of Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19-related restrictions.

Fifty-two lawmakers (32 Representatives and 20 Senators) have already signed a letter that has been circulated to members of both chambers and transmitted to the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House. Additional members are being asked to voice their support, with the hope of gathering enough signatures to call the Legislature into special session without the approval of the governor, who has so far failed to allow lawmakers to act.

In the letter to their colleagues, the lawmakers state: “We once again seek your cooperation to convene a special session of the Legislature. The need for legislative action on COVID-19 is urgent and growing. And while we had hoped that you would agree to convene earlier this year—when case rates were lower, social restrictions were more flexible, and budget problems would have been easier to address—we continue to believe that having a special session is the appropriate course of action now. COVID-19 demands our immediate attention as elected officials.”

The letter points out that Washington’s Constitution authorizes legislators to convene a special session with the agreement of two-thirds of the members of each house. Historically, special sessions have only been called by the governor, as is also allowed by the constitution.

Furthermore, the lawmakers argue there is a moral obligation for the legislators to act.

“One hundred thousand restaurant and hospitality workers are facing job loss because of the governor’s new rules,” the letter states. “Workers in retail, fitness, entertainment, the arts, and many other sectors are also losing their jobs without any prospect of relief. It is inexcusable for us to wait while our friends and neighbors are languishing. Designing a solution to this problem is the exclusive responsibility of the Washington State Legislature—not the federal government, and not the governor. It is our job to direct state financial resources and enact state policies to help.”

An emergency session also will enable lawmakers to address the standards needed to return students to the classroom.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley and one of the letter’s signers, said that his constituents continue to tell him that they cannot wait for the Legislature’s annual session to start in January to see relief; they need legislative action now.

“The letters, emails and phone calls I receive are heartbreaking,” said Padden. “People are hurting and they expect their elected officials to be in Olympia, serving as their voice, and working hard to meet their needs.”

One worker from Spokane Valley wrote to the Senator: “Just so you know, I am sitting in my house crying because my job shut down again! It will not reopen until Jan. I am behind 5 months in my house payment. …I can’t do this anymore. What are you as my representative doing to make sure that we have homes to live in, that we have food on the table? That our cars aren’t taken away, that we have electricity. I have two kids here that haven’t been in school since March. They are not getting the same education online as they were getting in school.

What are you doing for us??! I’m sick of this! DO SOMETHING!!!”

Padden agrees, “Yes. We must do something, but to do anything, we first have to be back in session. These folks can’t afford to wait until tomorrow, let alone until January.”