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COVID-19: Where Things Stand as of July 2


July 3, 2020 by Steve Gross
Category: Open Public Meetings Act , Utilities - Billing and Collection , Public Records Act , COVID-19

COVID-19: Where Things Stand as of July 2

Editor’s note: On July 7 and 8, the Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act provisions described below, including optional in-person components to remote meetings for those jurisdictions in Phase 3, were extended to August 1 with no further changes. See the legislature’s extension letter, Proclamation 20-28.7, and Governor Inslee’s news release.

In addition, Proclamation 20-25.6, issued July 7, expands and clarifies the facial covering requirements. For more information, see our blog post COVID-19 Facial Coverings – What’s Required?


At the beginning of July, a number of the legislature’s statutory waivers and governor’s proclamations expired, were renewed, or were amended. Below is a summary of the proclamations MRSC has been tracking that are most relevant to our local government audience.

“Safe Start – Stay Healthy” Update

The Governor issued Proclamation 20-25.5 on July 1. Key provisions and changes from prior versions of the “Safe Start – Stay Healthy” Proclamation include:

  1. It extends the state of emergency in 20-05 (as amended) and 20-25 (as amended) through July 9, 2020.
  2. The Safe Start Washington Phased Reopening County-by-County Plan, the Order of the Secretary of Health 20-03, requiring facial covering statewide, issued on June 24, 2020, and all other provisions of Proclamations 20-25, et seq., remain in full force and effect (except as modified in the latest Proclamation).
  3. Personal protective behaviors listed in the proclamation remain in effect. Wearing cloth face coverings is required as set out in more detail in  the Secretary of Health’s Order 20-03.  
  4. Incorporates by reference previous requirements regarding wearing face coverings. The Proclamation strengthens previous guidance as follows. Where 20-25.4 said that employees on the job must wear facial coverings (except when working alone or when they have no in-person interaction), 20-25.5 says that “no employee may work” unless they wear a face covering (the same exceptions apply). See our blog post on COVID-19 Facial Coverings — What’s Required? For more detail on face coverings.
  5. Adds specific requirements for employers. “No employer may operate, allow a customer to enter a business, conduct business, or employ employees unless the employer” cooperates with public health authorities on investigations and implementation of infection-control measures related to COVID-19, and complies with all public health and Department of Labor and Industries (LNI) orders, guidance, and rules.
  6. Low-risk activities previously allowed, such as visiting state parks, are still allowed.

Additionally, LNI amended its emergency rule WAC 296-800-14035 (originally issued May 26) forbidding employers from allowing employees to work where a business activity is prohibited by an emergency proclamation. The rule also requires employers to comply with all conditions, including Safe Start phased requirements and any specific industry requirements, required by emergency proclamations that were in effect at the time the emergency rule was adopted.

Open Public Meetings Act Update

The legislative leadership has extended the OPMA statutory waivers for one week, through July 7. In addition, Governor Inslee issued Proclamation 20-28.6 on July 2, recognizing the legislature’s extension and making some changes to his previous OPMA prohibitions.

In-person meetings are still prohibited unless your county is in Phase 3 of the Safe Start Phased Reopening County-by-County Plan.

If you are in Phase 3 you may (but are not required to) allow for an in-person component to your public meetings. If you have an in-person component, you must still provide, at a minimum, telephonic access that allows all persons to hear each other at the same time. In-person meetings are limited to 50 persons, who must all be separated by six feet. (This can be done at your primary meeting location or an overflow physical location). You must comply with all the provisions of the Plan related to in-person meetings, Proclamation 20-25.5, and Washington State Secretary of Health’s Order 20-23 regarding facial coverings.

If at any time the in-person component cannot meet any of these requirements, the public meeting (include the phone or remote component) must be adjourned, continued, or terminated until all the conditions can be met.

Public Records Act Update

The legislative leadership also extended the existing statutory waivers related to the PRA through July 7, as recognized in Proclamation 20-28.6, with no further amendments.

Utilities Update

Proclamation 20-23.6, issued July 2, extends through August 1 the rule prohibiting utility service providers from (1) disconnecting residential service due to nonpayment, (2) refusing to reconnect residential customers who were disconnected due to nonpayment, and (3) charging late fees or reconnection fees.

Proclamation 20-23.4 (issued May 29) had previously imposed a new requirement for all public utilities providing energy, water, and telecommunications services to develop COVID-19 Customer Support Programs consistent with state guidance. Originally, utilities were supposed to review and publicly post these programs by July 10, but Proclamation 20-23.6 extends this deadline to August 1, 2020 and provides new COVID-19 Utility Customer Support Program Guidance.

Annual Financial Reporting Update

Proclamation 20-34.4, issued June 18, extended the annual financial reporting deadline to July 1. This proclamation has not been renewed and has now expired.

Evictions

While no new proclamations have been issued in the past four weeks, remember that Proclamation 20-19.2 prohibits residential and commercial evictions, as well as rent increases or threats to increase rent, for residential tenants and for commercial tenants who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. These provisions continue though August 1, 2020.

Stay Tuned for More Updates

This information will not stay current for long, as Proclamation 20-28.6 (PRA/OPMA) is set to expire on July 7 and Proclamation 20-25.5 (Safe Start, Stay Healthy) is set to expire on July 9. More changes are expected soon. As new guidance is issued by state agencies, we will add it to our COVID-19 Governor's Proclamations and State Guidance page.

If you have questions, please Ask MRSC.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Steve Gross

Steve Gross joined MRSC as a Legal Consultant in January 2020.

Steve has worked in municipal law and government for over 20 years as an Assistant City Attorney for Lynnwood, Seattle, Tacoma, and Auburn, and as the City Attorney for Port Townsend and Auburn. He also has been a legal policy advisor for the Pierce County Council and has worked in contract administration.

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