Thank you for sharing your concerns about state mandates

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August 20, 2021

Dear 12th District constituents, 

Thank you very much for writing me to share your concerns about Governor Inslee’s recent COVID orders and other issues regarding his executive authority. As you can imagine, my office continues to receive numerous emails and calls from constituents with concerns about these orders, including more than 2,000 emails in the past two days.

If you have contacted my office in the past, you know that I pride myself in delivering personalized and prompt responses back to you. Unfortunately, I am unable to do this given the extraordinarily high volume of communications on Governor Inslee’s mandates, but I’d still like you to receive a response quickly. Hopefully, you will find my responses to the “frequently asked questions” below helpful in addressing your questions and concerns.

Like you, I too am frustrated by the state’s response to the COVID pandemic and recent state laws. For many months now, I have been calling for more local control and decision-making in this process rather than a continuation of top-down “command and control” directives from Olympia. Click here to read my guest opinion about local control. Unfortunately, my frustrations only continue as more statewide mandates are issued. Please know that I am doing my best to represent you.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your state senator.



Brad Hawkins

How is the governor able to issue state orders?

The state’s Emergency Powers Act (RCW 43.06.220) empowers the governor to declare emergencies and issue orders in response to declared emergencies. The original version of this law was enacted in 1969. At the time the law was authorized, no one would have anticipated any “emergency” lasting multiple years. On February 29, 2020, Governor Inslee issued Proclamation 20-05 declaring a state of emergency for COVID-19. This proclamation will likely be in effect until it is terminated by the governor. Since the COVID pandemic first began in 2020, the governor has had many months of nearly total control of state operations. The constitution does allow for the governor to call a special session (described in more detail below), but he has been unwilling do so.

Are his mask and vaccine mandates enforceable?

Yes. The secretary of the Washington State Department of Health is appointed by Governor Inslee and has the authority to issue mask regulations. These directives are referenced within the governor’s emergency orders. Order 20-03 (face coverings) is the most recent order, issued August 19, 2021. Governor Inslee has issued two different vaccine mandates: one applying to state employees (Proclamation 21-14, issued August 9, 2021) and one applying to K-12 school employees (proclamation not yet available but announced August 18, 2021). Both mandates allow for exemptions for medical and religious reasons but not personal reasons. In accordance with the governor’s authority during emergencies, these directives have the same effect as state law, although temporary in nature. Vaccine policy continues to be a big issue across our state and country. I have always supported personal exemptions – in addition to medical and religious exemptions – for vaccinations.

Aren’t these actions unconstitutional?

We are all entitled to our opinions about what is constitutional, but final rulings from the judicial branch determine constitutionality. These rulings include decisions by state and federal courts. Some of the court challenges have originated here in North Central Washington. The federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in Slidewaters v. L&I affirmed the governor’s authority to declare the COVID-19 emergency and state Labor and Industries’ power to adopt a rule to enforce the governor’s proclamations. Last summer, as reported in this Wenatchee World article, a Chelan County court denied a bid from challengers to terminate Governor Inslee’s State of Emergency. While state laws may differ throughout the nation, courts in other states have largely upheld the COVID mandates issued by their governors.

Can legislators call for a special session?

The state Legislature, according to the Washington State Constitution, only meets for part of the year for “regular sessions” of the Legislature. Article II, Section 12 of the constitution (page 23) authorizes the Legislature to call itself into special session with a two-thirds vote. The governor can also call the Legislature into a special session, but he has not done so. The specific process for gaining a two-thirds vote of the Legislature is set forth in Joint Rule 29 (page 11). Senate Republicans, including myself, have called for a special session multiple times during the COVID pandemic. To view the letters seeking a special session, click here and here. Most recently, we have called for a special session to address issues related to police reforms and emergency powers revisions (click here), but we have not attained the two-thirds threshold among members. The political dynamics in Olympia have shifted greatly in recent years. Of the 49 state senators, there are 29 Democrats but only 20 Republicans. There is no way to organize a special session without bipartisan support.

How can we limit the governor's executive powers?

The state has the ability to modernize its Emergency Powers Act, but enacting a change in law would require approval of the Legislature and Governor Inslee. Last legislative session, I co-sponsored Senate Bill 5039 to expand legislative oversight of the governor’s emergency proclamations by setting a 30-day time limit on all orders unless extended by the Legislature. Senate Republicans attempted procedural efforts to bring this bill to a vote last session, but those efforts were blocked by the Democratic Senate majority. Senate Resolution 8402 was also adopted during the 2021 regular session. It indefinitely extended many of the governor’s emergency proclamations, so most of the governor’s mandates are no longer actually reviewable by the Legislature, just extended in date indefinitely. I voted against this resolution, but it was approved by the Senate (28-19) and the House of Representatives (54-44). Beyond the Legislative process, only a citizens’ initiative – if upheld by the state Supreme Court – could limit executive powers.

State Senator Brad Hawkins
12th Legislative District


107 Newhouse Building - P.O. Box 40412 | Olympia, WA 98504-0412
(360) 786-7622 or Toll-free: (800) 562-6000