In First Turn Of The Dial, More Washington Construction Can Resume, With Safety Measures In Place

File photo. Seattle's rental housing market shows more availability than other areas of Washington, like Kittitas and Yakima counties, where new construction hasn't kept up with demand. CREDIT: TED S. WARREN/AP
File photo. Residential construction in Washington was largely halted during the coronavirus stay home measures. CREDIT: Ted S. Warren / AP



Washington state has reached a small milestone in the fight against COVID-19: some construction projects may resume, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday. 

But there are strings attached to the loosened guidelines, and resuming work relies on a continued downward trend of novel coronavirus cases.  

“We are trying to find that right balance of safety and productivity,” Inslee said, during a news conference announcing the eased restrictions. 

Low-risk projects may start back up again under a variety of conditions: job sites must have an on-site supervisor for COVID-19 as well as virus-specific safety plans, and employers must provide adequate personal protective equipment. Any plans must be posted at the job site, and workers can only perform tasks where social distancing is feasible. 

The “thorough, thoughtful approach,” as Inslee called it, was developed with help from a task force of industry leaders. They joined Inslee for Friday’s announcement. 

Mark Riker, executive secretary with the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, said the group evaluated tasks that can be performed on any given job site. While it’s hard to quantify how many people can get back to work under this plan, Riker said it’s inclusive of all industry sectors.  

Inslee stressed that any projects that can’t comply with all the detailed guidelines can’t resume work. He foreshadowed the possibility of lifting other restrictions, citing recreation and elective surgeries specifically, and said details could be available in the coming days. 

Still, a full reopening of the economy isn’t possible now, Inslee said. If we did, he added, “this virus would return with a vengeance.”

Inslee has said, including in a plan he released earlier this week, that opening the economy would look more like the turn of a dial than the flip of a switch. Friday was that first turn of the dial.

“We now have bent the curve. We’ve learned from this. This is going to be an intelligent, incremental process,” Inslee said. “We now think we can return to the (construction) industry safely.”

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I940 Rally with Joyce Dorsey
Joyce Dorsey, whose son Che Taylor was shot by Seattle Police nearly two years ago, speaks in Olympia before the delivery of Initiative 940 petition signatures to the Washington secretary of state Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017. CREDIT: TOM BANSE


Washington voters will likely get to weigh in on police use of deadly force. A ballot measure on that subject turned in around 360,000 voter signatures Thursday afternoon. That should be more than enough to qualify for consideration by the Washington Legislature and then probably go to the statewide ballot in 2018.

Washington currently has one of the highest thresholds in the nation for criminally charging police officers who use deadly force. They are protected as long as they act in “good faith” and without malice. In recent history, county prosecutors in Washington who reviewed controversial police shootings invariably declined to charge any of the officers involved.

Initiative 940 would allow prosecutors to charge a police officer after a deadly shooting using a new “good faith” standard and it calls for ongoing de-escalation and mental health training for officers.

Relatives of people who died in confrontations with police marched triumphantly through the rain to the beat of tribal drums to deliver boxes of petition signatures to the Washington Secretary of State’s office.

Katrina Johnson’s cousin Charleena Lyles was shot by Seattle Police last June.

“The state of Washington has spoken. Enough is enough,” Johnson said. “There is enough blood that has been spilled on these streets and it stops today. We got 360,000 signatures so our loved one’s death will not be in vain,” she said to cheers.

Police officers guilds strongly oppose this initiative. They argue it would change Washington’s standard for prosecution of officers from one of the most protective in the country to one that is highly subjective and “least protective.”

“We feel strongly that changing the Use of Force Law will not reduce violent interactions between law enforcement and the public,” Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs President Craig Bulkley wrote in a public letter. “In fact, it could cause more violence as it ties the hands of police officers, troopers and deputies, and could cost lives.”

“I-940 is bad for communities. It is NOT about training, it’s only intent is to put officers in JAIL,” the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild tweeted earlier this month.

Sisters Uyen Le and Xuyen Le, whose nephew Tommy Le was shot and killed by a King County sheriff’s deputy in June, argued that current policing and accountability policies cannot be allowed to continue.

“Had there been this Initiative 940—de-escalation tactics, the standards for use of deadly force, mental health and first aid training—many innocent lives would have been spared,” Uyen Le said at the signature delivery march.

Because the I-940 campaign turned in well over the minimum 260,000 voter signatures required to qualify a statewide initiative, the Secretary of State’s office can do a random sample check of the signatures. That could take up to a month to complete.

After an initiative to the legislature is certified, elected lawmakers have three options. They can vote to adopt the initiative as proposed and it becomes law without further ado. Lawmakers can also draw up an alternative measure and then both the citizen initiative and the legislature’s alternative go to the voters at the next general election. Or the legislature can reject the initiative or do nothing, in which case the measure automatically goes onto the November statewide ballot.

Washington state lawmakers rarely pass initiatives to the Legislature into law themselves or present alternatives. Legislators punted to the voters on the past 13 initiatives that came before them dating back to 1995.

Leaders of De-Escalate Washington, the campaign organization for I-940, would like for their initiative to be approved during the 2018 legislative session, but realistically expect to be punted to the November ballot.

De-Escalate Washington drew some high-profile backers who made five- and six-figure donations so the campaign could hire paid signature gatherers. Major donors included the Puyallup, Muckleshoot and Tulalip tribes, SEIU and UFCW labor union locals and Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.

I-940 was one of 70 initiatives to the legislature filed with the Washington Secretary of State this year. The other proposed measures covered a multitude of different subjects from marijuana regulation and health care to car tab fees and term limits for local government officials.

State Elections Division staff do not expect any other campaigns to turn in petitions before Friday’s deadline.

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Are ballot rejection rates going up in Mason County? Data says no.

A few months from now, people across Washington state will vote in this year’s general election. Most will vote by mail, with the ballot mailed to them from their county auditor.
Voters will fill out their ballots, sign the envelopes and drop them off in a ballot box or send them in the post, where a team of election workers will accept those ballots and send them over to a machine to be counted.
Continue Reading Are ballot rejection rates going up in Mason County? Data says no.