Jul 5, 2022 - Politics

Hot seat: Gov. Jay Inslee says COVID is still a state emergency

Photo illustration of Gov. Jay Inslee, in an instant photo pinned to a red wall.
Photo Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: Melissa Santos

Gov. Jay Inslee isn't committing to when he'll end Washington's COVID-19 state of emergency — and he will continue to make vaccination a job requirement for state workers.

Driving the news: Inslee didn't say much last week as he issued a new directive making his state-worker vaccine mandate permanent.

  • But, in an earlier interview with Axios Seattle, the governor shared some of his reasoning for continuing the requirement.
  • "We're saving the lives of state employees," Inslee told Axios in June. "It is still a fatal disease, the vaccine is extremely effective."
  • He added that only a small fraction of employees — "like 3% or 4%" — left their jobs or were fired because they wouldn't get vaccinated.
  • "So the vast, vast, vast majority of state employees are with us. They're doing great work, we want to keep them safe," the governor said.

Zoom out: Republicans have criticized Inslee for continuing to declare COVID-19 a state of emergency — a proclamation that gives him broad power to ban activities he deems a threat to public "health, property or the public peace."

  • Asked by Axios what metric he is using to decide when to lift his COVID-19 emergency declaration, Inslee replied, "When it's no longer useful for the health of Washingtonians."
  • He noted he has "removed over 70%" of the restrictions that were previously active, including mask mandates and school and business closures.
  • The governor said he is doubtful he will have to reimpose those types of restrictions, "but anything is possible."

Of note: According to CDC data, 15 Washington counties now have "high" COVID-19 transmission rates, meaning the CDC recommends that residents resume wearing masks in public indoor spaces and on public transit.

Between the lines: Democrats, too, have bristled over Inslee's use of his executive authority when it comes to his vetoes.

  • In one instance, Democratic leaders in the Legislature sued him over his use of a line-item veto and won, with the state Supreme Court saying the governor exceeded his constitutional authority.
  • In comments to Axios, Inslee said he would follow the Supreme Court's decision.
  • But he didn't say he would swear off vetoing individual lines or subsections of bills — the issue at the heart of that ruling.
  • "There are circumstances where the court decision, I think, allows certain things," Inslee told Axios.
  • "...They resolved it in favor of the Legislature this time. They may favor the governor the next time."
Hot seat speed round: (Environment edition)

On whether he wants to remove the Snake River Dams:

"I have not made any conclusions about which route to go."

On whether cap-and-trade and other new laws put the state on track to meet its climate goals:

"No, we still need additional measures ... We will have to have additional policies to waste less energy, and to generate more renewable sources and clean sources. Those are absolutely necessary."

On why he thinks Washington's cap-and-trade law is better than California's:

"We have a much more [of] what I would describe as a rigorous, robust and effective way to handle the pricing of it. So you actually do get those carbon reductions. We also have a better environmental justice provision to make sure that we help communities of color … So yes, we have learned from their experience."

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