Inslee may reopen construction, other activity

Inslee may reopen construction, other activity
Governor Jay Inslee has announced plans to extend the “stay at home” order beyond May 4, though construction activity may reopen in some capacity. Photo: freepik.com

Governor Jay Inslee announced in an April 21 address to the state that his March 18 “shelter-in-place” order will extend beyond May 4, though certain activities such as construction and outdoor recreation may reopen. At the same time, some Republican state lawmakers are calling on Inslee to convene a special session to address what is all but guaranteed to be a budget shortfall resulting from the prolonged economic shutdown.

The hit to businesses can be seen in the latest figures from the state Employment Security Office, which reported that the office received more unemployment claims last weekend in a single day than the 182,000 applications filed between March 23-27 – the worst on record and seven times more than the peak week during the Great Recession.

“Small businesses are shutting their doors, are going bankrupt and we have to take action to protect the people we represent,” Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42) said in an April 21 news conference.

Sen. Phil Fortunato (R-31) said during the news conference a special session would allow elected officials to discuss Inslee’s proclamations, rather than “write letters to Santa Clause. If we have ideas of getting back to work and the Democrats have ideas of getting back to work…we need to fight this out on the Senate floor. That’s why people elect their elected representatives.”

Last week, Inslee signed a pact with Oregon and California for a collaborative effort to restart the state economies. Although a specific plan has yet to be released, during his address he said it “will look more like a turning of a dial than the flip of a switch. We’re going to take steps and then monitor to see whether they work or if we must continue to adapt.”

He added that “we have come up with a sensible plan for allowing limited return to construction with safety measures in place.”

Builders have insisted since the March 18 order that their industry should be considered “essential activity” and can be done safely. In addition to laying off workers, builders have also said that their construction sites have been vandalized and burglarized.

However, some local and county governments have already attempted to restart the industry. The city of Lynden issued an April 7 statement declaring the construction sector may “continue its work whenever it can be done prudently and safely.” Since then, the city of Chelan along with Douglas and Chelan counties have issued resolutions allowing certain residential construction to start. The two county commissions have received letters from Inslee’s office warning that “criminal and/or civil charges be pursued” against any builders who refuse to comply with the governor’s order, albeit as a “last resort.” Now, Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney has announced he won’t enforce Inslee’s stay at home order, stating Inslee “has no plan. He has no details.”

Following Inslee’s April 21 address, House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox (R-2) warned in a Facebook post that by not explaining his decision to extend the stay at home order or offering details, the governor “risks a bigger disaster because these failures threaten the mandate of the public that he needs for truly effective orders now and in the future. The rejection of his authority started in small towns and rural counties. It is rapidly increasing in the Puget Sound area and all but the largest cities.”

Earlier this month the state held several online work groups among stakeholders discussing how to safely resume construction work. The group eventually submitted recommended guidelines to Inslee that advocated reopening activity that adheres to social distancing requirements. An April 14 letter cosigned by labor union and building group representatives to Inslee states that the industry requires “a framework that is flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions.”

In their “Safe Economic Restart Plan” released earlier this month, Senate Republicans called for the creation of a task force composed of state officials, labor, and industry representatives to develop a course for reopening businesses “on a phased or limited basis as necessary,” along with suspending rulemaking.

Inslee has another press conference scheduled for April 22 at 2:30 p.m.

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