Commentary by Mark Harmsworth | Washington Policy Center
When Governor Inslee issued his ‘Stay in Place’ COVID-19 declaration on March 23rd, there was enough ambiguity in the list of essential businesses that his office had to issue a follow-up clarifying statement. In that statement, the state classified residential construction, which represents a large portion of the Washington economy, as a non-essential activity and shut it down.
Washington’s position on residential construction differs from that of Oregon and California where both public and private construction is exempt and can continue.
A public records request to the Governors office has revealed that the decision to shut down residential construction was made at the last minute. The original decision was residential construction was deemed essential.
On March 22nd, the first email draft of the Stay at Home order included language based on the California declaration and specifically exempted residential construction from shutdown. Subsequent drafts on March 23rd continued to exempt residential construction until the final draft in which additional language was inserted 2 hours prior to the statement being announced to the public. This new language was not clear if it applied to all construction or just government contracts.
The hurried nature of the changes contributed to the need for a follow-up clarification.
The original language, based on the California declaration read as follows:
And the final language, after the residential restriction was added:
The distinction between government construction and residential construction is arbitrary.
The Puget Sound area is already struggling with affordable housing prices and a delay in bringing the badly needed inventory to the market will only exacerbate the situation.
The state needs to reconsider its position on classifying residential construction as a non-essential business and allow, with the appropriate safety guidelines, the industry to restart as soon as possible.
If the original decision on March 22nd to allow residential construction was good enough to protect the health and safety of workers, and nothing changed between March 22nd and the 23rd, then we should go back to that decision and allow residential construction to re-open.