(The Center Square) – Eight Washington Democrats in the state Legislature have crossed party lines to call on Gov. Jay Inslee to reconsider his COVID-19 restrictions or face a special session.
The letter, first obtained by Q13 Fox, is signed by eight Washington Democrats and four Republicans from the House and Senate. The letter follows Inslee's decision to halt further reopening statewide, leaving all but three counties – Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman – in the state's least restrictive Phase 3. Those counties were thrown back into Phase 2 on April 16 to the chagrin of local leaders.
In the letter, state lawmakers blame Inslee for handicapping Pierce County by not granting it a larger share of COVID-19 vaccinations in early April. They contend that Inslee unfairly shut down Pierce County when King County, which remains in Phase 3, was also in violation of Inslee's health metrics.
Under Inslee's "Healthy Washington" roadmap, big counties such as Pierce and King of more than 50,000 people must see 200 new cases or fewer per 100,000 people for two weeks straight to reach Phase 3. Returning to Phase 3 from Phase 2 means cutting indoor dining capacity in half from 50% to 25% for bars and restaurants.
Inslee has denied any unfair treatment of Pierce or other Washington counties.
"We stand by our decisions designed to save the lives of the residents of Pierce County," Inslee said in a statement. "I can categorically say Pierce County has not been treated unfairly during this pandemic."
"We do not dispute that the numbers in Pierce County have continued to rise and have only recently started to flatten," the letter states. "We believe your announcement on May 4 runs counter to our understanding that science and fairness shape decisions and changes to the reopening plan."
The letter warns the governor that failure to reexamine Washington's statewide reopening restrictions could compel state lawmakers to call themselves into a special session to weigh their "legislative options."
A bill introduced last month by state Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, was intended to limit Inslee's emergency powers and leave them subject to review by state lawmakers. The bill received a "no" vote from every sitting Democratic lawmaker. Four of the Pierce County Democrats who voted against the bill in April signed on to the letter sent to Inslee on Thursday. They are state Sen. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, state Sen. T'wina Nobles, D-Fircrest, state Rep. Dan Bronoske, D-Lakewood, and state Rep. Emily Randall, D-Parkland.
A total of 380,109 people in Washington state have been infected with COVID-19 to date. Another 5,553 people have died from the virus.