E-Newsletter: New rule to stop spread of COVID-19: “Stay Home, Stay Healthy”

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

Well, it’s come to this: the first part of the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” proclamation made by the governor late yesterday afternoon immediately required every Washington resident to stay home unless he or she is engaged in an “essential” activity — buying food or medicine, a doctor visit, or working at an “essential business.” Part two requires all businesses not considered essential to close within 48 hours, which basically means no later than Wednesday evening.

The governor’s acknowledgement that some Washington residents were still failing to grasp the seriousness of the COVID-19 situation seems to explain the reasoning behind his new order. That said, our state is far from alone in imposing such restrictions on the movement of its residents. I fully appreciate the concern for protecting the most vulnerable among us, especially those with underlying health conditions; I was one of those people last year due to undergoing chemotherapy. However, forcing so many private-sector businesses to close on the grounds that they’re not “essential” – even if they’re capable of maintaining six feet of space between workers – certainly won’t help maintain what has been a strong state economy.

If you operate a business and don’t already know whether it fits in one of the categories on the governor’s official list of essential businesses, the list is at this link — and fair warning, it’s 14 pages. If your company doesn’t qualify as “essential” but you believe it should, based on services or functions you provide, you may request such a designation with an email to business@mil.wa.gov.

It’s frustrating to think that I can’t even be in the same room as my grandkids, especially the two newborns, but we need to stay vigilant and keep our social distances where we can in order to protect our families and community. I hope this latest step helps. At least it’s not a “shelter in place” directive, so we can still go outside and enjoy the fresh air (in between raindrops) – while maintaining social distancing, of course. Fortunately, it’s spring!

Here’s the basic set of wide-ranging online resources about the virus:

  • Google.com front page — links to national and global information about COVID-19
  • coronavirus.wa.gov — state government’s one-stop shop for information
  • coronavirus.gov — the federal government’s one-stop shop

And some specifics:

Please follow the precautions we’re supposed to follow – and stay safe!

In the meantime, bills are becoming law
It’s a good thing the legislative sessions in even-numbered years like this are limited to 60 days. If this was an odd-numbered year, we would be allowed 105 days and adjourn in late April — in which case the COVID-19 restrictions would have made it impossible to continue. Just like the United States Senate, our votes are cast by voice; there’s no constitutional provision for passing legislation remotely, so we would have been forced to adjourn weeks ahead of schedule.

Even before we adjourned March 12 the move toward “social distancing” caused the governor’s office to tighten restrictions on who could attend the signing ceremonies for legislation that had passed. That was a disappointment, because I know many from Clark County were hoping to witness the signing of the Tiffany Hill Act. Soon after the situation changed, so that no one can attend the signings, even the legislator who introduced the bill. They’re broadcast on the TVW network only.

Fortunately, these bill signings are mostly ceremonial, not constitutional, so the COVID-19 situation will not affect the final step of the lawmaking process. That’s because our constitution allows bills passed by the Senate and House to become law automatically, without the governor’s signature, with two exceptions. First, a bill containing a so-called “emergency clause” becomes law as soon as it’s signed. Second, the governor can block a bill from taking effect (in part or in full) by exercising his veto power.

Without getting too deep into the details, and using the Tiffany Hill Act as an example, Washington’s constitution gives Governor Inslee 20 days from the day SB 5149 was delivered to him (March 12) to “return” the bill to the Legislature “with his objections.” That’s code for a veto. The 20 days don’t include Sundays, so assuming he doesn’t veto the bill (and there’s no reason to think he will), the Tiffany Hill Act will automatically become law April 4. The law itself will go into effect 90 days after the end of the session, meaning mid-June.

It’s unusual for a governor to not sign every bill publicly, ceremonially or otherwise (I can think of just one that was signed in private). However, in this unprecedented time, I can’t assume Governor Inslee will sign every one of the 380-plus bills passed this year — there are bigger issues demanding his attention. If the Tiffany Hill Act becomes law on its own and we can request a signing ceremony with photographs at a later date (which I’ll do), it’s all good.

I welcome your questions about state government and the decisions I make in the state Senate. Please call or e-mail!

Yours in service,