Reviewing state mandates, executive powers, property taxes, and more

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September 15, 2021

If you have contacted my office in recent years, you know that I pride myself in delivering personal responses to you. My office staff and I work very hard to make sure you receive prompt and detailed information related to your questions and concerns. Despite the high volume of communications my office receives, I still try to respond personally to each. Unfortunately, I was unable to respond personally to thousands of inquiries last month following Governor Inslee’s statewide mask and COVID vaccine mandates.

In an effort to provide you with helpful information, I have assembled some “frequently asked questions” and include responses below. Many of the questions that my office has received lately include concerns about police reform laws, state vaccine mandates, and executive powers, but I also include questions about rising property taxes and other issues. I hope you find this format helpful. If you have other questions about state government that I was not able to answer, please feel free to reach out to me anytime.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your state senator.



Brad Hawkins

Capitol dome and cherry trees

In accordance with the Washington State Constitution, the Legislature meets annually for regular legislative sessions. These sessions alternate each year between 105-day and 60-day periods. Lawmakers can reconvene for a “special session” with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or if directed by the governor.

Can the new police reform laws be changed?

Any state law can be changed if those changes are approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor. The police reform bills approved during the 2021 legislative session include House Bill 1054 (police tactics), House Bill 1310 (police use of force), Senate Bill 5051 (police oversight), Senate Bill 5066 (duty to intervene), and House Bill 1267 (independent investigations). I voted against all of these bills. Given changing dynamics within the Legislature in recent years, all of the bills were approved by comfortable vote margins. Everyone should have access to a fair and honest law enforcement system, but these bills went way too far and have resulted in ambiguity and too many unanswered questions. I have joined my colleagues and law enforcement groups to encourage a special session to address the new police reform laws. If a special session is not established, my hope is that the many discussions occurring throughout the state will lead to changes to make these laws much more workable next session. Please click on the link to review my recent police reform newsletter or to listen to my KPQ police reform interview.

How is the governor able to issue state orders?

The state’s Emergency Powers Act (RCW 43.06.220) empowers the governor to declare emergencies and issue orders in response to declared emergencies. The original version of this law was enacted in 1969. At the time the law was authorized, no one would have anticipated any emergency lasting multiple years. On February 29, 2020, Governor Inslee issued Proclamation 20-05 declaring a state of emergency for COVID-19. This proclamation will likely be in effect until it is terminated by the governor. Since the COVID pandemic first began in 2020, the governor has had many months of nearly total control of state operations. The constitution does allow for the governor to call a special session (described in more detail below), but he has been unwilling do so.

Are his mask and vaccine mandates enforceable?

Yes. The secretary of the Washington State Department of Health is appointed by Governor Inslee and has the authority to issue mask regulations. These directives are referenced within the governor’s emergency orders. Order 20-03 (face coverings) is the most recent order, issued August 19, 2021. Governor Inslee has multiple different vaccine mandates: one applying to state employees (Proclamation 21-14, issued August 9, 2021), and one applying to health-care workers and K-12 school employees (Proclamation 21-14.1, issued August 21, 2021). Both mandates allow for exemptions for medical and religious reasons. In accordance with the governor’s authority during emergencies, these directives have the same effect as state law.

COVID-19 vaccine

The governor’s vaccine mandates have generated significant debate about vaccine requirements and state policy. My recent survey generated nearly 6,500 responses. Click here to view my Vaccine Mandate Survey Results

Are these executive actions constitutional?

We are all entitled to our opinions about what is constitutional, but final rulings from the judicial branch – in our “checks and balances” governance model – determine constitutionality. These rulings include decisions by state and federal courts. Some of the court challenges have originated here in North Central Washington. The federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in Slidewaters v. L&I affirmed the governor’s authority to declare the COVID-19 emergency and state Labor and Industries’ power to adopt a rule to enforce the governor’s proclamations. Last summer, as reported in this Wenatchee World article, a Chelan County court denied a bid from challengers to terminate Governor Inslee’s State of Emergency. While state laws may differ throughout the nation, courts in other states have largely upheld the COVID mandates issued by their governors.

Can legislators call for a special session?

The state Legislature, according to the Washington State Constitution, only meets for part of the year for “regular sessions” of the Legislature. These sessions begin every January. Article II, Section 12 of the constitution (page 23) authorizes the Legislature to call itself into special session with a two-thirds vote. The governor can also call the Legislature into a special session, but he has not done so. The specific process for gaining a two-thirds vote of the Legislature is set forth in Joint Rule 29 (page 11). Senate Republicans, including myself, have called for a special session multiple times during the COVID pandemic. To view the letters seeking a special session, click here and here. Most recently, we have developed a special session proposal to address issues related to police reforms and emergency powers revisions (click here), but we have not attained the two-thirds threshold among members. The political dynamics in Olympia have shifted greatly in recent years. Of the 49 state senators, there are 29 Democrats but only 20 Republicans. There is no way to organize a special session without bipartisan support.

How can we limit executive powers?

The state has the ability to modernize its Emergency Powers Act, but enacting a change in law would require approval of the Legislature and Governor Inslee. Last legislative session, I co-sponsored Senate Bill 5039 to expand legislative oversight of the governor’s emergency proclamations by setting a 30-day time limit on all orders unless extended by the Legislature. Senate Republicans attempted procedural efforts to bring this bill to a vote last session, but those efforts were blocked by the Democratic Senate majority. Senate Resolution 8402 was also adopted during the 2021 regular session. It indefinitely extended many of the governor’s emergency proclamations, so most of the governor’s mandates are no longer actually reviewable by the Legislature, just extended in date indefinitely. I voted against this resolution, but it was approved by the Senate (28-19) and the House of Representatives (54-44). Beyond the Legislative process, only a citizens’ initiative – if upheld by the state Supreme Court – could limit executive powers.

Have you been vaccinated?

Yes, I was eager to get vaccinated. My family, including my two kids in middle school, is fully vaccinated. We are grateful for the COVID vaccines and for our hardworking health-care professionals. However, getting a vaccine – especially such a new one – can be a major, personal decision even with federal FDA approval. Many people have very sincere concerns about being vaccinated, and that should be respected and acknowledged. However, the vaccination discussion is complex, and time will help provide more information. Differences may exist across sectors. When it comes to private sector employment practices, for example, I do not believe it is the government’s role to involve itself in the COVID vaccination policies of businesses. The Legislature has already had debates and votes about vaccinations, and the COVID vaccine will be no different. Controversy from the governor’s recent mandates will certainly keep vaccine discussions at the forefront of state lawmaking. There is no doubt that vaccine policies – in our state and country – will continue to be a big source of debate in the months and years ahead.

Douglas County property taxes

This graph shows property taxes in Douglas County. The state portion of the property tax is 27.42 percent. Remaining amounts are each locally determined, either by elected officials or community votes. Learn more here.  

Why do my property taxes keep increasing?

Of all the taxes collected among all levels of government, the one I receive the most questions and complaints about is the property tax. In short, property taxes continue to increase due to increases authorized along with overall valuation of property, but it’s a complicated process. The property tax bill that you receive is actually a collection of multiple different property taxes and assessments, most of which pertain to the local jurisdiction in which you live. The property tax statement includes an itemized list showing the responsible entity for the property taxes you pay. One way that I like to explain things is to think of your overall property tax bill as one round-shaped pie. Various entities receive their revenue from slices of the pie. Since the state relies primarily on sales and business taxes to fund its programs, only a slice of what you pay in property taxes is actually the state portion. Remaining slices (some larger than others) are comprised of taxes from various local governments for such things as school levies, school bonds, fire response, library, and other local services. Some of these property taxes, such as local school district levies and bonds, are subject to the approval of local voters and the amounts are often increased. Residents of one jurisdiction can pay more or less property taxes than residents of another jurisdiction depending on the measures approved by voters in that area. For more detailed information, please click my Closer Look at the Property Tax System.

Is the insurance commissioner raising rates?

Many of you have written me lately with concerns about potential increases in your insurance rates. Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler introduced this emergency rule to temporarily prohibit use of credit scores in personal insurance rate setting, applying primarily to home, renters, and auto insurance. The insurance commissioner’s rule has required insurance companies in Washington state to submit amended rate plans (without credit score considerations). The commissioner has tried for multiple years in legislation to remove credit scores from insurance rate setting. Commissioner Kreidler and his office requested Senate Bill 5010 during the 2021 session, but it did not advance. He plans to utilize the full rulemaking authority available to his office to extend his temporary rules and also plans to seek legislation again next session for a permanent change in law. I do not support the legislation or Commissioner Kreidler’s rule-issuing effort as credit scores are commonly used in insurance rate setting across the United States. Utilizing credit scores is a nationally accepted way to determine a person’s risk of submitting an insurance claim. Prohibiting the use of credit history will likely lead insurance companies to charge everyone more to absorb the added risks. People with strong credit scores are naturally a lower risk to insurance companies, and it seems very reasonable for insurance companies to charge individuals with strong credit scores less.  It does not seem fair to essentially punish people with good credit.

Is there a new long-term care tax?

Yes. As a result of House Bill 1087 approved in 2019, Washington State will be requiring all workers to pay into a long-term care program regardless of whether they will receive benefits from it. I voted against it this bill, but it passed the House of Representatives (63-33) and the Senate (26-22). This mandatory long-term care program has a maximum lifetime benefit of $36,500. It is funded by a .58% payroll tax, which amounts to $0.58 for every $100 of earnings. People can apply for an exemption through the Washington State Employment Security Department, if they have purchased long-term care insurance through a private provider by November 1, 2021. Ensuring that our elderly population has access to quality long-term care is a very important issue. As many of you know from friends and relatives, long-term care is very costly. While this new program is intended to help people and may benefit some, taxing everyone’s paychecks for years and years – including younger workers struggling to repay student loans and saving for a home – seems very burdensome, especially for a limited benefit they may never receive. To learn more about Washington’s new long-term care program, click here and here.

State Senator Brad Hawkins
12th Legislative District


107 Newhouse Building – P.O. Box 40412 | Olympia, WA 98504-0412
(360) 786-7622 or Toll-free: (800) 562-6000

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