FILE – Washington state capitol building

The front of the Washington state capitol building in Olympia, Washington.

(The Center Square) – Washington lawmakers will spend most of the 2021 legislative session debating from their computers, but state militiamen say they plan on occupying the state capitol building in their absence.

Matt Marshall, founder of the Washington State Three Percenters, announced in an email to members that they should plan to “station themselves” at the Olympia capitol building as part of a “Legislative Lockout.”

According to their stated plan, the militia plans on entering the chambers of the Washington Senate and House of Representatives, which are both closed to the general public under health guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Washington House will be meeting remotely for the duration of next year’s session while the Washington Senate intends to meet remotely and in-person.

The militia will be there to back up another right-wing group, Liberty, At All Hazards, which intends on leading the protest at the capitol on January 10. Its founder, Tyler Miller, says the event is meant to be peaceful.

"We are merely there to assert the constitutional requirement that all floor sessions of the legislature remain open to the public," Miller said. "If the legislature were to revise their plans such that the public was allowed inside the building, even in a limited manner, and to offer some form of in-person committee hearings option, then we would cancel and/or cease our event."

According to Marshall, the event is intended to convince lawmakers to reconvene onsite in Olympia, where they can accept in-person public testimony.

He writes that the militia has no intent on performing “violent offensive action of any kind,” but they are “prepared to defend ourselves while demanding the State follow the Constitution.”

The event is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 10, just hours before the legislature convenes the following day online for the beginning of the 2021 session.

At least 74 people on Wednesday indicated on the Facebook page for “Legislative Lockout” they intended to participate while another 409 indicated they were interested in attending.

The Washington State Patrol is coordinating with local and federal agencies to prepare for the event, according to WSP Communications Director Chris Loftis.

"Our shared goal is to make sure all users have a safe experience and productive work and speech environment," Loftis wrote in an email. "Those who cross the boundaries of illegality, threat and harm and take dangerous and unlawful actions that endanger public safety will receive a full and firm response from law enforcement."

On Dec. 12, the state capitol building was the site of a shooting following demonstrations between members of the far-right Proud Boys group and anti-fascists which saw four officers injured and four people arrested. The man who was shot was reported to have survived.

The Washington State Three Percenters have participated in numerous rallies around the state. They were created as a companion to the national Three Percenters militia. The two groups have since severed ties with one another, according to Washington militia leaders.

The news comes days after Joey Gibson of Vancouver, Washington, and founder of the right-wing Patriot Prayer group joined several hundred supporters of President Donald Trump in their attempt to break into the Oregon capitol building in Salem during a special legislative session on Monday.

Washington lawmakers will have a host of bills to consider during the 2021 session in addition to balancing the state’s swelling budget for the 2021-2023 biennium.

Those bills include expanding mental health support for law enforcement, creating a use of force database for police, expanding religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccinations, funding affordable housing, and limiting the governor’s emergency powers, among others.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s $57.6 billion proposed budget, released in four installments last week, calls on the legislature to pass capital gains and health insurer taxes in addition to capping carbon emissions, approving more pandemic relief, and hiring more school counselors.

Washington Democrats will enter the 2021 session with largely the same legislative majority they have enjoyed for two years in Olympia.

“My focus is on helping our state recover from the health and economic impacts of the pandemic,” Inslee said. “I also want to continue to make investments in all the programs that people need to help them through these times. This is not the time for budget cuts – this is a time for investing in Washington.” 

The state has never passed a capital gains tax to date, which critics have likened to a personal income tax which is prohibited by the state constitution and likely to draw a flurry of lawsuits.

Their prime example is a one-page ruling from the Washington Supreme Court from 1960 in which justices unanimously agreed the court wielded no right to green light a capital gains tax.

“2020 has taught us that there are many things in life that are uncertain,” wrote Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center, a free-market think tank, in an op-ed. “A capital gains tax being a highly volatile income tax is not one of them. This is not a debate unless you are trying to circumvent Washington’s constitutional prohibition on graduated income taxes.”

Washington Republicans have expressed little excitement for the new taxes and spending included in Inslee’s budget, but some, like Washington Sen. Linda Wilson, R-Vancouver, have praised his revised health metrics for reopening schools during the pandemic.

The signature deadline for initiatives to the legislature is Dec. 31. State lawmakers will reconvene virtually for the 2021 legislative session on Monday, Jan. 19.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.