The city of Battle Ground has become the latest battleground in the fight against COVID-related mandates. City officials on Monday considered a new ordinance defying Gov. Jay Inslee’s virus mandates.
Put forward by council member Brian Munson, the ordinance would prohibit the city from requiring any of its employees, contractors or volunteers to be vaccinated or asking for proof of vaccination. The ordinance would also restrict the council from passing face mask or social distancing mandates within city limits.
During a Sept. 7 council meeting, Munson said he decided to bring the ordinance to the council after reviewing the state statutes defining the powers of the governor during a state of emergency. Munson said he did not find anything allowing “the governor to enforce masks, coerce shots, enforce social distancing or shutdowns of our economy.”
Munson also cited a legal analysis from Federal Way Municipal Court Judge David Larson, who said local health officials — rather than state officials — are responsible for public health decisions during a pandemic.
Should the ordinance come up for a vote, it’s unlikely to be unanimous. Mayor Adrian Cortes has previously said he would not support such an ordinance. On Saturday, about two dozen demonstrators stood outside Cortes’ home in support of the ordinance. Cortes was not home at the time.
At Monday’s council meeting, Greg Cheney of the Clark County Republican Party read a statement on behalf of the party’s leadership denouncing the protest at the mayor’s home.
“While letting public officials know a person’s views on public policy is a core part of the democratic process, doing so in a manner that creates fear and anxiety in their family members is not acceptable,” Cheney said. “Demonstrating at a public office holder’s private home, causing his family to be caught in the crosshairs of a protest, are not family values.”
Nor did Cheney have kind words for the ordinance itself. Cheney said asking a government agency to invent a power that does not exist or to exceed its authority is not a conservative value.
“That is the antithesis of limited government,” he said. “There’s nothing conservative about wasting taxpayers’ money trying to defend an ordinance based on a power that does not exist. That is the antithesis of fiscal prudence.”
Before the council can move forward, there are questions and issues still to resolve. For example, council member Cherish DesRochers questioned the council’s role in employee-related actions.
“Are we crossing lines here?” DesRochers asked. “From discussions in the past, it seems like something the city manager would handle.”
Also, the city’s liability insurance provider has already said it would no longer provide coverage if the council passes the ordinance. The council will need to decide whether to take the risk and self-fund its insurance coverage.
There is also the question of the council’s legal authority to supersede state and federal mandates. Inslee’s legal authority has already, although unsuccessfully, been challenged in court. In July, a lawsuit filed by Chelan-based Slidewaters was thrown out of federal court. U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice said the governor’s emergency powers granted by the Legislature “clearly encompasses an outbreak of a pandemic disease” and that the state had lawfully exercised its authority in developing rules to enforce mandates.
The same judge previously rejected the water park’s motion for a temporary restraining order against state enforcement of the emergency proclamations.
In addition, the ordinance could impact the city’s access to federal and state funding. If the city fails to meet state or federal requirements, funds like those for the Interstate 5 exchange project could be withheld.
Other cities and counties have passed resolutions, which establish guidelines or policies, targeting COVID-19 mandates. Battle Ground could be the first in the state to pass an ordinance establishing local law.
In August, the city of Woodland passed a resolution challenging the constitutionality of Inslee’s virus mandates, calling them a “horrendous civil rights violation.” Woodland officials also pledged they would not require vaccinations for any of the city’s employees.
Two resolutions have been passed in Cowlitz County: The first stated the county wouldn’t require employees hired and managed by the board of commissioners to get the vaccine, while the second supported “citizens’ rights to oppose coerced vaccination in Cowlitz County.”
However, Cowlitz County’s commissioners took a step further when they also threatened to withhold public money from, or end contracts with, groups or organizations with vaccine mandates.
The Battle Ground City Council will again review the proposed ordinance at its Oct. 4 meeting. For information on the meeting agenda or how to access the meeting on Zoom, go to https://www.cityofbg.org/agendacenter.