OLYMPIA — In one of his first acts as Washington secretary of state, Democrat Steve Hobbs, of Lake Stevens, has told his some 300 staff to become vaccinated against COVID-19 by Feb. 25, or face losing their jobs.
Under the previous secretary of state, Republican Kim Wyman, her office was the only statewide office that did not impose a vaccine requirement after Gov. Jay Inslee announced his mandate for state employees, health care workers and educators last summer.
“I am confident that this will help protect the employees of this office, as well as the citizens that we serve,” Hobbs told the Northwest News Network and other media outlets.
Inslee appointed former longtime lawmaker Hobbs as secretary of state in November after Wyman said she was resigning to take a top election security post with the Biden administration.
The secretary of state’s office estimates that more than 200 of its employees, or about 70%, have been vaccinated.
Hobbs said his office is adopting Inslee’s vaccine policy which allows employees to seek an exemption and accommodation to continue working.
The secretary of state’s office operates 27 locations and is responsible for elections, corporation and nonprofit registrations and operation of the state archives and library.
In an interview last fall, Wyman — Washington’s only Republican statewide officeholder — defended her decision not to require vaccines, although she was vaccinated.
“I wasn’t willing to fire someone who, for whatever reason, didn’t want to share with me their vaccination status,” Wyman said.
Asked how Hobbs would respond to a staff member who doesn’t want to get vaccinated, Hobbs held firm: “Being fully vaccinated brings you greater protections, even if you were to get infected by omicron.”
For now, booster shots for secretary of state staff will not be required.
Among state employees covered by Inslee’s mandate, about 3% — or just over 2,000 — left their jobs or were terminated because they did not want to get vaccinated, according to the state Office of Financial Management.