OLYMPIA — Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib did not preside at the governor’s address to a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday because he felt vulnerable in the House chamber, where people can carry concealed weapons in the public galleries.
“There is no specific threat to me. There is no specific threat we know of, period,” he said before the governor’s speech. “It’s about the policy.”
Habib’s office issued a formal statement less than two hours before the event which read: “Safety protocol could not be agreed upon between the House and Senate for the State of State ceremony. Given that the ceremony takes place in the House chamber, deference goes to House leadership to follow their protocol.”
Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, the speaker pro tem in the House, presided in Habib’s absence when Gov. Jay Inslee delivered the annual State of the State speech at noon.
The annual event, which was held in the chamber of the House of Representatives, was attended by the nine state Supreme Court justices and every statewide elected official — except Habib.
Habib’s decision spotlights a difference in security approaches between the House and Senate.
Both chambers ban openly carried weapons in their respective galleries, where people can view lawmaker action from above.
In November 2017, Habib, a Democrat and the presiding officer in the Senate, ordered the ban expanded to cover concealed weapons. His action didn’t apply to the House, however.
Habib, who is blind, said he is concerned the House policy leaves him and every other elected official in attendance more vulnerable.
There are two galleries overlooking the floor of the House of Representatives.
For the address, one full gallery and the first two rows of the second gallery was reserved for invited guests of the governor and other dignitaries. That left roughly two-and-a-half rows for members of the public.
Habib’s staff notified House Democratic leaders and the chief clerk of the House early Monday that the lieutenant governor would not attend unless steps were taken to prevent anyone from bringing a concealed weapon into either gallery.
Initially, the lieutenant governor’s staff asked if both galleries could be closed. When that was rejected, they sought unsuccessfully to have some type of metal detection equipment deployed outside the entry doors.
The chief clerk’s office did increase security though it was clear no specific threat existed.
A statement issued Tuesday afternoon from the chief clerk’s office expressed regret at Habib’s decision not to preside. It noted that state clearly allows properly licensed individuals to carry concealed weapons on the state capitol campus, including the House galleries.
“Absent any specific security issue, and in accordance with the law, the House kept the galleries open so that the public could see its government in action,” the statement read. “Safety is always a concern, but so is the transparency of the Legislature’s work on behalf of the people.”