Friday, November 26, 2021
Nov. 26, 2021

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Battle Ground votes down ‘medical freedom’ ordinance

By , Columbian staff writer

Following a heated exchange, the Battle Ground City Council on Monday rejected a proposed “medical freedom” ordinance in a 4-2 vote.

Council members Brian Munson and Shauna Walters voted in favor of the ordinance; Mayor Adrian Cortes, Deputy Mayor Phillip Johnson, and council members Shane Bowman and Cherish DeRochers voted against it.

DeRochers said she supported medical freedom and would have been inclined to vote for the ordinance had the negative effects not been so substantial.

The ordinance would have barred the city:

  • From requiring any employee, contractor or volunteer to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
  • From making it mandatory to wear a face mask in any public open space, or in a publicly owned facility within city limits.
  • From requiring anyone to practice social distancing in public open space or in publicly owned buildings.
  • From requiring anyone to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

Violating the ordinance could have resulted in a misdemeanor conviction with fines no greater than $250 or 90 days in jail.

Bowman and Johnson were particularly critical of the ordinance and Munson for putting it forward. Both accused Munson of political grandstanding and campaigning from the dais.

“This has nothing to do with the citizens of Battle Ground,” Bowman said. “The people who elected us are paying for this, for us to play political games from the dais? That’s unacceptable.”

Bowman and Johnson also took aim at the city spending taxpayer dollars to hire outside legal counsel and use the city attorney’s and city staff’s time to research the ordinance.

The city hired Yakima attorney Kirk Ehlis to review the ordinance and provide a legal opinion. Ehlis said the ordinance could create legal liability for the city and individual council members that would not be covered by the city’s insurance provider.

Ehlis also said, in his opinion, that Gov. Jay Inslee does have legal authority to pass mandates and that those mandates have the force of law.

City attorney Christine Hayes agreed that the city and council could be subject to legal action if the ordinance was passed. She also said the city has to be in compliance with all laws to receive federal funding, which the ordinance could put at risk. Additionally, the city could be fined by agencies like OSHA, which could levy fines as high as $14,000 per day.

“I want to see what my compatriots are willing to gamble,” Johnson said of the city’s $44 million annual budget. “We’ve already spent $10,000 roughly.”

Despite their votes in favor of the ordinance, Munson and Walters offered few comments during the meeting.

Other business

The council also issued proclamations in support of fire prevention week, Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Sam Crummett, community development director for the city, provided presentations on the proposed Sarkinen annexation of 79 acres in the northeast section of Battle Ground, Hockinson School District capital facilities plan and impact fees, updates to the city’s comprehensive plan map and changes to the city park plan which included pocket parks and neighborhood service areas.

City engineer Ryan Jeynes also provided updates on the Eaton Boulevard and 157th Avenue intersection project.

The council next meets at 7 p.m. on Oct. 18. All meetings are held on Zoom.