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Law

Federal judge rejects bid to stop Washington vaccine mandate

A volunteer received a shot of the experimental Moderna vaccine against COVID-19 in March as part of a safety study.
A COVID shot is administered to a patient.

SPOKANE — A federal judge in Eastern Washington on Monday denied a bid by firefighters, state troopers and others to halt Washington’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state workers and emergency responders.

A group of workers is suing Gov. Jay Inslee, Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste and others. The workers say their civil rights are being violated by the requirement they get vaccinated to continue in their jobs.

The plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, but KXLY reports U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice denied the motion.

In his ruling, Rice wrote: “The Supreme Court has long endorsed state and local government authority to impose compulsory vaccines. … Federal courts have routinely analyzed such cases using rational basis and regularly reject cases similar to this one that challenge vaccine mandates based on free exercise of religion.”

Rice says the plaintiffs also cited modifications to their contracts as a reason for the court to step in. But the judge said they had not provided copies of collective bargaining agreements in question.

He said Inslee’s proclamation requiring vaccines “is well-supported by extensive medical evidence, recommendations by professional organizations, and aligns with other measures already in place in other governmental settings.”

Oct. 18 was the deadline for thousands of workers in Washington to prove they’ve been fully vaccinated as a condition of their continued employment. The vast majority complied.

Last week officials said more than 1,800 Washington state workers have been fired, resigned or retired due to the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate. Numbers released by the governor’s Office of Financial Management show that about 3% of the state’s approximately 63,000-person workforce that was covered by the mandate have left their jobs.