Judge dismisses GOP lawmakers’ challenge of House vax rule

Rep. Robert Sutherland and five colleagues fought a requirement barring access to the House floor unless vaccinated

Rep. Robert Sutherland at a “March For Our Rights” rally in Olympia in 2019. (Washington State House Republicans)

Rep. Robert Sutherland at a “March For Our Rights” rally in Olympia in 2019. (Washington State House Republicans)

OLYMPIA — In the weeks before the start of the 2022 legislative session, majority Democrats signed off on a plan for conducting business in the House of Representatives in the ongoing pandemic.

It required lawmakers be vaccinated to participate in floor session and to access their offices. It restricted where the public could go. Overall, many elements didn’t sit well with Republicans.

Six of them, including Granite Falls Rep. Robert Sutherland, sued in November, alleging the House plan created “separate and unequal classes of legislators” and violated their right to freedom of speech and laws regarding discrimination.

On July 1, their fight came to an end when Thurston County Superior Court Judge Mary Sue Wilson dismissed the case.

“After nearly 50 lawsuits, we continue our undefeated record defending state COVID-19 policies aimed at keeping Washingtonians safe,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said.

The outcome wasn’t a total surprise. Much changed from the time the suit was filed and the session had ended when the parties faced off in court, effectively mooting many of the plaintiffs’ points.

“I think the court landed where it did because the rules we challenged had been updated throughout the legislative session,” said Pete Serrano, an attorney with the nonprofit Silent Majority Foundation that represented the legislators.

No appeal is planned.

“We feel good about the fact that the rules changed throughout the session,” he said. “We felt like we helped move the ball in those discussions. In the event it does occur again we’re well prepared to argue the issue.”

In September, the House Executive Rules Committee approved an operations plan for the fall months and 2022 session. The four Democratic members — Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Reps. Pat Sullivan, Lillian Ortiz-Self and Monica Stonier — voted for it and the three Republican lawmakers — House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox and Reps. Joel Kretz and Paul Harris — opposed.

The plan required lawmakers show proof of vaccination to be on the House floor and to access their legislative offices. It also limited the number of lawmakers and staff allowed on the floor at any one time and restricted public access into the chamber and House facilities.

Sutherland and five colleagues sued the four Democratic House members, as well as Bernard Dean, the chief clerk of the House, who was responsible for carrying out the plan. Residents of each Republican lawmaker’s district were included as plaintiffs as they argued that, as a result of the rules, they were no longer properly represented in the Legislature.

The GOP lawmakers sought an injunction because “we thought the rules were unfair and violated our rights,” Sutherland said. “We didn’t get it.”

So they set out to “document the harm as it occurred” during the session, he said.

Sutherland, who was not vaccinated, said he kept track of committee meetings, hearings and votes he missed while working remotely, often due to “spotty internet service.” The information went to the court.

“We showed harm and we said we want to prevent it from happening in the future,” Sutherland said. “The courts made it impossible for us to get relief even though we could show the harm.”

Meanwhile, as the 60-day session wore on, COVID cases declined and the Executive Rules Committee eased restrictions to allow more members — vaccinated ones — onto the House floor. Access for the public eased as well.

The suit’s dismissal means the House “will maintain the ability to govern itself,” said Jinkins, D-Tacoma. “And when we have unexpected circumstances like a pandemic we will be able to figure out the best way to get the people’s work done.”

Operational rules will be reviewed again before the 2023 session. Any requirements for members and staff will be developed based on public health data and the ability to keep people safe, Jinkins said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Olivia Vanni/The Herald)
Providence nurse’s tearful plea shines light on short-staffed ER

The nurse described an overwhelmed emergency department, as staff have pleaded with the Everett City Council for hazard pay.

FILE - This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. A leading doctor who chairs a World Health Organization expert group described the unprecedented outbreak of the rare disease monkeypox in developed countries as "a random event" that might be explained by risky sexual behavior at two recent mass events in Europe. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, File)
Snohomish Health District hiring full-time monkeypox task force

The county is gearing up for more cases. The outbreak will be evaluated weekly to decide if a four-person team is merited.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Body found in impounded car in Lake Stevens

In June, Bothell police impounded the vehicle. Last week, a Lake Stevens business found a body inside.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
California woman dies after motorcycle crash west of Lake Stevens

Kimberly Moore was the passenger on a motorcycle Friday morning. She died the next night. She was 53.

Ella Larson, left, and Simon Fuentes sort through blueberries at Hazel Blue Acres on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Fruits, flowers and bees aplenty in Arlington farm fete

First-ever event highlights local growers’ bounty and contributions to local community

A view of the proposed alternative station location to Everett Station located east of the current BNSF rail tracks in downtown. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Could light rail station under Pacific Avenue and over railroad work?

A group representing people around Everett Station wants Sound Transit to study the idea.

State Representative Robert Sutherland, left, gives a thumbs-up to passing drivers as he and a few volunteers wave flags and campaign signs along the side of State Route 9 on July 22, in Lake Stevens. Sam Low, right, talks with seniors on July 20 in Lake Stevens. (Sutherland photo by Ryan Berry / The Herald, Low photo by Kevin Clark / The Herald)
In GOP battle of Sutherland vs. Low, Democrats may tip the scale

The state lawmaker and Snohomish County council member are vying for a House seat. Democrats make up roughly 40% of the vote.

Food forum
Chocolate peanut butter Incredibles

These chocolate peanut butter bars are, as the name suggests, incredible.

SnoTown Brewing’s Frank Sandoval in 2019. (Aaron Swaney)
SnoTown Brewery owner charged with child molestation

Frank Sandoval conceded his conduct with a girl at his brewery was inappropriate, but he denied touching her sexually, charges say.

Most Read