Spin Control: Why a judge won’t block a House rule and let unvaccinated lawmakers vote in person


A handful of House Republicans received a heavy blow on Friday in their fight against the requirement that they be vaccinated against COVID-19 or stay out of the House in the next session and participate through Zoom.

All six lawmakers – including Jenny Graham of Spokane, Rob Chase of Liberty Lake and Bob McCaslin of Spokane Valley – have claimed their constitutional rights would be violated by a rule imposed by Democratic House leaders that proof of vaccination must be shown to be present on the floor for debates and votes.

Without providing such proof, they will have to watch, debate and vote on the Internet. Unlike the Senate, the House will not allow a negative test instead of a vaccination.

House leaders, who form a 4-3 majority on the Executive Operations Committee, do not allow exemptions for personal or religious reasons and infringe the right to free speech, the six lawmakers said. in a lawsuit. They could also violate the law on voting rights by depriving their voters of the ability of their elected officials to vote on the legislation, he alleges.

“When these members are not allowed into the chambers of the House, it amounts to an expulsion and there was no vote,” said lawyer Simon Serrano, of the Silent Majority Foundation, who presents himself as “a grassroots organization focused on protecting the US constitution and theological foundation,” said during a Thurston County Superior Court hearing for an order temporarily blocking the vaccination rule.

Jeffrey Even, a deputy attorney general who handles many of the state’s electoral and legislative challenges, countered that the six were not, in fact, deported, removing the definition from Black’s Law Dictionary.

“’Expulsion’”, he read, ““ to deprive a member… of his membership ”. Obviously that is not happening here. “

Members of the House do not have a vaccination mandate, he said, so the rules do not violate their personal or religious beliefs. They can participate in debates and vote remotely, as in the 2021 session, so there is no violation of the “one person, one vote” rule of the Voting Rights Act.

“If you don’t want to be vaccinated, that’s okay. You can still participate, ”Even said. “It’s just that you’re not going to do it upstairs in the House.” In fact, anyone with proof of vaccination will not be allowed to participate in debates and votes due to social distancing rules, he added.

Legislating from a distance is not the same as being there, Serrano argued, and in this year’s session Graham was among lawmakers who at times had technical issues that hindered participation. Lawmakers who have technical issues should work with House staff to resolve them, even replied.

While many Republicans have opposed the rules surrounding COVID protections in the workplace – which is the floor of the House for the six complainants – there are unusual aspects to their complaint. One is the reference to the Voting Rights Act, the latest version of which drew almost unanimous opposition from Republicans in the House. The other is the very act of asking a separate branch of government to tell the legislature what it can and cannot do.

But desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures.

Superior Court Judge Mary Sue Wilson said she did not believe the plan of operations made vaccines mandatory and did not have to decide whether it violated voting rights law or violated certain constitutional rights. The House passed rules at the start of the 2021 session that give an executive committee of four Democrats and three Republicans the power to make rules for the functioning of the House and Chief Clerk Bernard Dean the power to apply them.

“The direct remedy in the House… would be to present a resolution that would change or repeal (the rules),” she said.

She denied the preliminary injunction, saying House members are unlikely to succeed.

“Simply put, the plans do not prevent requesting lawmakers from participating in the legislative process,” Wilson said.

Questions about violating personal rights or religious freedom might apply with a vaccination warrant, but “I’m not reading the plan on mandatory vaccines,” Wilson said. Lawmakers had also argued in their documents that with a new COVID variant, vaccines might not be as effective.

“I’m not going into this,” she said.

While denying the preliminary injunction, Wilson said she did not completely close their case. But based on a state Supreme Court ruling that the judiciary does not interfere with the inner workings of the legislature, she said lawmakers are unlikely to succeed.

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