OLYMPIA, Wash. — Some Washington state lawmakers said they cannot access certain buildings at the Capitol after House leaders passed a rule requiring members and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before they can enter.
“I can't do work from the Capitol as a legislator in this state. This is unusual,” said Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) in a Facebook video posted Tuesday.
In the video, Walsh tries to get into the House office building with his keycard.
“I can't get in,” he said.
House leaders passed an interim rule in September that says starting Oct. 18, “access to House facilities (the Capitol Campus and district offices) is limited to members and staff who have provided documentation of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Absent verification of being fully vaccinated, members and staff will not be permitted into House facilities and will continue to work remotely.”
“I have not presented COVID vaccine papers,” Walsh said in the video.
The rule was first reported by the Associated Press.
“Our goal has been, in every decision we've made, along the pandemic path, to protect our staff and protect members,” said House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) in an interview Wednesday.
Twenty-six members have not submitted proof of vaccination as of Wednesday morning, said Bernard Dean, chief clerk for the House of Representatives. Vaccine verification is not mandatory, nor is it a condition of employment for members, he said.
The House and Senate are not in session, so the Capitol is quiet, and most house members and staff have been teleworking, Dean said.
“The notice has been out there since the end of September, that this is where we were moving, so it's frustrating to see people engage in stunts to get publicity about something instead of really engaging and trying to get the pandemic under control," said Jinkins.
The proof of vaccination rule only applies in House buildings, not offices controlled by the Senate. Lawmakers are expected to return to Olympia for the legislative session in January.
Dean said discussions regarding vaccine verification for the session are ongoing.
“We hope to have the majority of decisions finalized by early November,” he said.
Jinkins said committee hearings in November will be done remotely.
“When we did remote committee testimony, we had more Washingtonians participate in our committee hearings than we ever had in history,” she said.