Opinion: Next step for Inslee’s permanent vaccine mandate

Elizabeth Hovde shares why the Washington Policy Center recommends the Legislature repeal this mandate when it meets this coming January.

Elizabeth Hovde shares why the Washington Policy Center recommends the Legislature repeal this mandate when it meets this coming January

Elizabeth Hovde
Washington Policy Center

Rules have been made, comments have been compiled, and despite its unpopularity, it looks like Washington state employees in executive and small-cabinet agencies are going to be stuck with Gov. Jay Inslee’s outdated COVID-19 vaccine mandate as a condition for ongoing employment. New employees in executive and small-cabinet agencies will also be mandated to have an initial vaccine series. 

Elizabeth Hovde
Elizabeth Hovde

Boosters will not be required, making the whole mandate look a bit silly — knowing that vaccine immunity wanes. Instead, boosters were bought in negotiations with public employee unions. Taxpayers will be on the hook for paying a public employee who wants or is coerced into getting a booster $1,000 in booster-incentive pay. Read more here.

Washington’s Office of Financial Management (OFM), which was charged with rulemaking for Gov. Jay Inslee’s permanent vaccine mandate as ordered in Directive 22-13.1, has reviewed all the written comments and oral testimony it received in the time that was allotted for the public to weigh in. That time has now ended. A letter summarizing all the feedback was sent to OFM Director David Schumacher, who was appointed director of OFM by Inslee in 2013.

Now, the director can approve the rules OFM staff crafted that create “new provisions for non-represented employees to continue the requirement to be fully vaccinated, or granted exemption/approved accommodation, and requiring employers separate an employee for failure to comply with COVID-19 vaccination requirements.” If he does, the rulemaking will be filed with the Code Reviser’s Office, with an effective date of Nov.1. I’m told by OFM that the rulemaking will then be posted on the agency’s website within a day of filing. You can follow rulemaking activity and see updates here. See the civil service rules in Washington Administrative Code 357 here

The Executive Cabinet consists of 24 agencies, including the Department of Transportation, Washington State Patrol and the Department of Corrections — all of which have had heartburn caused by the vaccine mandate. See the full group of state agencies here. Every small-cabinet agency can be seen here

Inslee also encourages other state agencies to join him in a permanent COVID-19 vaccine mandate. His directive reads, “I call upon our higher education institutions, our independent agencies, our boards, councils and commissions, and other separately elected officials to consider similar requirements within their agencies and jurisdictions.” So far, I am unaware of any takers. It appears other agencies led by different leaders might agree with the numbers and science that show this mandate is inappropriate and that it does not bring a demonstrable public health benefit.

COVID-19 is serious, but it is no longer a public-health crisis. It has become like other viruses that we have to deal with in a reasonable and voluntary way. And you can spread or contract COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status.

Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employment does not serve the public or the state workforce. People of working ages – and they are who the vaccine mandate applies to – have never been the ones dying from COVID-19 in a way that depletes hospital resources or workforces. Staffing shortages have been exacerbated by the governor’s vaccine mandate, on the other hand.

When the deadline for vaccination passed, numbers from OFM showed nearly 1,900 people were fired, resigned or retired due to the mandate on state employees. People’s careers were ruined, their individual and family finances suffered, and state service levels were harmed and remain worrisome.

Washington Policy Center recommends the Legislature repeal this mandate when it meets this coming January.

Elizabeth Hovde is a policy analyst and the director of the Centers for Health Care and Worker Rights at the Washington Policy Center. She is a Clark County resident.

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