KENNEWICK — A Thurston County judge has refused to grant an injunction that would have barred two COVID proclamations Gov. Jay Inslee amended in March.
It’s the latest action in a lawsuit that Pasco-based nonprofit Silent Majority Foundation filed last month against the governor.
The group is alleging that Inslee’s office failed to “find a state of emergency” in all 39 counties before using emergency powers to amend two proclamations related to face masks and vaccine requirements.
“Despite failing to find a state of emergency in each of the 39 counties in Washington, Governor Inslee proclaimed and ordered that a state of emergency continues to exist in all counties of Washington state and imposed restrictions on individuals’ ability to make their own medical and employment decisions under penalty of criminal sanctions,” claims the suit filed by the group’s lead attorney, Pete Serrano, a Pasco city councilman.
The group claims there was no emergency in about a third of Washington’s counties at the time the proclamations were altered in March 2022.
Several counties were reporting few if any COVID cases when the proclamations were reissued. The rate of ICU hospital bed occupants also was declining statewide, they argued.
Mike Faulk, Inslee’s press secretary, said in an email to the Herald that they “stand by the governor’s science-based and informed orders and decisions to protect workers and communities statewide.”
In recent weeks, COVID activity and infections have been rising both in the Tri-Cities and statewide.
The Silent Majority Foundation at a hearing last week argued the proclamations placed an undue burden on Washington state residents by requiring vaccinations, but the judge said the request didn’t meet the state’s standard for an injunction or restraining order
Serrano told the Herald the next step will be the lawsuit’s discovery process where each side will question one another on facts and evidence.
“We’re going to persist in the case, and I think discovery will really show us if the governor made such a finding,” he said.
Mask, vaccine proclamations
One of the proclamations signed by Inslee on March 23 amended the vaccine mandate to include contractors working for the Secretary of State. But the other proclamation, signed on March 11, was the order that rescinded most of Washington’s indoor mask mandate.
Face masks are still required in some indoor settings, such as hospitals, long-term care facilities and jails.
“For us, it felt like it was important to challenge both,” Serrano said.
Serrano said they’re arguing the two proclamations shouldn’t have gone into effect because the governor hasn’t proved there is a state of emergency in every county in the state.
Serrano also claims Inslee’s office also has been opaque with their standards for continuing the COVID state of emergency, now in its third year.
The governor earlier this year said the reason for continuing the state of emergency was to protect hospitals, employees and to continue using federal funds for COVID response.
“If it’s about dollars and cents, that should not be a driver to retaining these mandates,” Serrano said.
This is Serrano’s third lawsuit against the governor, and his nonprofit has lead other lawsuits challenging COVID mandates.
Last month, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought on by workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory over vaccine mandates. Silent Majority Foundation was a co-plaintiff in that case.
The group also helped a Department of Corrections officer in Connell challenge the vaccine mandate and sue Inslee after the state attempted to reassign him as part of an accommodation to his COVID vaccine exemption. That lawsuit was ultimately dropped by the Silent Majority Foundation.
Serrano also was involved in last year’s failed recall of Inslee over his decision early on in the pandemic to limit gatherings, impose an eviction moratorium and instill other COVID-related orders.