Please take my survey about the COVID vaccine mandates!

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August 25, 2021

As Washington state and the rest of the world continues to process through the COVID pandemic, governors throughout our nation – Republicans and Democrats – have utilized their offices and authorities in a variety of ways. In Washington state, the Emergency Powers Act (RCW 43.06.220) authorizes the governor to declare emergencies and issue orders in response to those declared emergencies. The original version of this law was enacted in 1969, at a time when likely no one would have anticipated any emergency lasting multiple years. On February 29, 2020, utilizing the Emergency Powers Act, Governor Jay 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. 

Following the emergency proclamation last February, the governor has issued a number of subsequent statewide orders. His appointed cabinet members, such as the secretary of the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), have released additional regulations. These DOH directives include the statewide mask regulations, which are referenced within the governor’s emergency orders. DOH’s Order 20-03 for statewide masking is the most recent requirement, issued August 19, 2021. For the COVID vaccine, Governor Inslee has issued two different mandates: Proclamation 21-14 for state employees and Proclamation 21-14.1 for health-care workers and K-12 school employees. Both mandates allow for exemptions for medical and religious reasons but not for 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 needle held in blue glove

The controversy from Governor Inslee’s recent mandates (for state employees and for health-care workers and K-12 school employees) will likely keep vaccines at the forefront of state discussions. Vaccine policies – in our state and country – will continue to be a major topic of debate in the months and years ahead.

A closer look at state mandates, governor’s emergency powers, and special sessions

Many people have contacted me to ask if these mandates are constitutional. The short answer is that we are all entitled to our opinions about what is constitutional, but final rulings from the judicial branch – in our “checks and balances” governance model – ultimately determine constitutionality. These rulings include decisions by state and federal courts based on legal challenges, some of which have originated right 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.

Washington state has the ability to modernize its Emergency Powers Act, but enacting a change in law would require approval by 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 other senators. Senate Concurrent Resolution 8402 was also adopted during the 2021 regular session. It indefinitely extended many of the governor’s emergency proclamations. Now, 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.

Many of you have also asked about calling a special session of the Legislature. According to the Washington State Constitution, the Legislature only meets for part of the year in a “regular session,” which begins each January. 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 and 20 Republicans. There is no way to organize a special session without bipartisan support.

Sen. Hawkins floor speech

Vaccine policies will likely be debated in great detail in the years ahead at the State Capitol and throughout the United States. Your feedback about our state’s vaccine requirements, mask mandates, and related issues is very important to me.

Please take my COVID vaccine survey

There are many differing opinions about the COVID vaccine and Governor Inslee’s mandates. While these decisions are executive actions by him and his office, hearing from you is always important and helpful to me. While I believe I have made my positions clear over the past several months, there are new issues surfacing as our governor proceeds into new territory. With legislative proposals likely to be considered during future sessions, I need to continue to hear directly from you. I am eager to receive your survey responses to reflect upon your thoughts and opinions. Your answers will be anonymous.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my survey.

I appreciate the opportunity to serve as your state senator.



Brad Hawkins

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