April 21, 2024 6:38 am

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Senator claims L&I doesn’t have emergency authority to fine businesses

A new effort by the Inslee Administration to prosecute businesses that reopen without state permission is an unconscionable power grab not authorized by state law, says Senator Doug Ericksen (R-42).

Ericksen is calling for the immediate repeal of an “emergency rule” adopted last week by the state Department of Labor and Industries. The rule allows the agency to levy fines of up to $10,000 for businesses that reopen before the governor’s office gives the go-ahead. The rule transforms L&I, an agency charged with enforcing workplace safety regulations, into an agency charged with enforcing the governor’s coronavirus shutdown orders.

“I think the people of Washington have been punished enough by this COVID-19 shutdown,” Ericksen said.

“They don’t need the governor’s office to punish them further. Business owners and their workers are in a desperate situation. The case for continued restrictions gets weaker by the day, and public support is faltering because state government has dropped the ball on getting help to the people who need it. We shouldn’t make this situation worse by punishing the victims.”

In a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday, May 28, Ericksen advocates that there is no statutory foundation for L&I’s emergency rule. In his letter, Ericksen states the Department of Labor and Industries has never been granted the authority to adopt the emergency rule and there is no basis in RCW 43.06.220 for the adoption of enforcement rules by L&I, much less rules that double the statutorily established penalty for gross misdemeanors.

RCW 43.06.220 contains a specific enforcement clause that does not authorize L&I to adopt enforcement rules. Instead, the statute only provides that willful violations of an emergency order could give rise to enforcement through normal prosecutorial channels. Moreover, the maximum fine for a gross misdemeanor under RCW 43.06.220 is $5,000, whereas L&I’s emergency rules will be enforced by a fine of nearly $10,000 or more, according to L&I.”

Ericksen also claims that the provisions of RCW 49.17 cited in the rule making order does not support the adoption of rules to enforce gubernatorial proclamations.

RCW 49.17.010 is a general statement of legislative purpose to enhance industrial safety, but it does not grant any rule making authority. RCW 49.17.040 authorizes L&I to adopt rules, but only as required to enforce chapter 49.17 RCW, not the governor’s proclamations under RCW 43.06.220.”

Ericksen has called for a special session to deal with emerging financial problems associated with the COVID-19 shutdown. “If Gov. Inslee believes these fines are such a good idea, he should submit the idea to the Legislature, so that it can make the final decision,” Ericksen said.

The Lynnwood Times has reached out to the Governor and both the House and Senate majority and minority leaders for comment to the following questions:

  1. What are your thoughts on the petition to the governor requesting the immediate repeal of the emergency rules adopted by L&I that take effect immediately?
  2. What are your thoughts to calling for a Special Session of the Legislature?

We will continue to report updates as the story develops.


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