Local restaurants have had to adapt to new rules during the COVID pandemic. Pictured: JP’s Tavern in Federal Way’s turkey club sandwich with a side of tater tots. File photo

Local restaurants have had to adapt to new rules during the COVID pandemic. Pictured: JP’s Tavern in Federal Way’s turkey club sandwich with a side of tater tots. File photo

State lawmakers propose bill to fast-track the governor’s reopening plan

Bill’s sponsors want to give legislature control over COVID-19 restrictions.

If passed, Senate Bill 5114 will put all businesses, facilities and organizations into “Phase 2” of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Healthy Washington — Roadmap to Recovery plan.

One of the bill’s primary sponsors, Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia), said the bill will provide much-needed relief to small businesses in need of cash flow after COVID-19 restrictions forced them to either close or reduce their service.

“[Small businesses] are having a really hard time,” Braun said. “This gives them a path to survival.”

Braun said he believes some of the restrictions like those on restaurants preventing indoor service are “arbitrary” and not as effective in limiting the spread of the virus as they were intended to be. He referred to some early statistics from the Department of Health that estimated a marginal amount of infections being contracted at restaurants. Private gatherings are what Braun believes have been more responsible for the spread of the virus, and he said they have only been made more common in lieu of restaurants, bars and venues.

Another sponsor of the bill, and the sole Democratic sponsor, Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah), said Washington is one of less than five states that still is prohibiting indoor dining at restaurants, with 41 other states allowing higher than 50 percent restaurant capacity.

Mullet said the bill allows the Legislature to make decisions about the state coronavirus policies as it relates to public commerce.

It even includes provisions for the Legislature to “regularly review” public health data to make decisions about community-specific restrictions, potentially usurping the governor’s authority to make those decisions during the legislative session.

“We can monitor it,” Mullet said. “We have the same public health data [the Governor’s Office] has.”

Mullet also said the state’s effectiveness in the fight against the virus has and will continue to depend on individual choices within the lives of private residents.

Braun said the Legislature can always vote to reinstate restrictions on businesses and communities if the data shows an uptick in infections.

Through the pandemic, Republicans in the state have been critical of the governor’s unilateral approach to COVID-19 restrictions that bypassed legislative input.

“The goal is to provide perspective around the state that until this point has been missing,” Braun said.

Braun said he trusts that customers will make good decisions about risk when it comes to public behavior in the future.

“We can work together in goodwill to support public health and the economy,” Braun said. “They are not mutually exclusive.”


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