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Washington state senator escorted from Capitol after 'testing' COVID protocols

By Alec Regimbal, SeattlePI

Washington state Capitol building in Olympia, Washington.

Washington state Capitol building in Olympia, Washington.

powerofforever/Getty Images

A state senator was escorted out of the Capitol building in Olympia after intentionally defying coronavirus protocols Monday as the Legislature met to convene the 2022 legislative session.

Sen. Phil Fortunato, in a statement on his legislative website, said he purposefully entered the building without first submitting a negative test, which is required of all senators who wish to work on-site.

Fortunato, a Republican from Auburn, said in his statement that the Senate’s coronavirus protocols “don’t pass constitutional muster.” He also argued that such protocols aren’t needed because, in his view, the virus will eventually become endemic.

“We have now been in an ‘emergency’ for nearly 700 days and it’s becoming clearer that this virus is something we are going to have to live with,” he said. “It is time to return to normal proceedings and Zoom is not a substitute to being able to represent my constituents on the Senate Floor.”

Fortunato’s flouting of the rules comes at a time when the extraordinarily contagious omicron variant of the virus is ripping through Washington.

The state is averaging nearly 15,000 new cases a day, a whopping 242% increase over the last two weeks. Hospitalizations have shot up 104% in that same time. Dr. John Lynch, a medical director at Harborview Medical Center, said at a recent briefing that Washington is now “closer to a crisis situation” than it’s ever been.

Fortunato’s “test” of the Senate’s virus protocols also comes just under a month after his colleague, Sen. Doug Ericksen, died after being hospitalized with the virus, which he contracted while on a trip to El Salvador.

“At some point in time we have to push back, and I intend to at every step of the way,” Fortunato said in his statement. “I believe the Governor and the Democratic majority, under the guise of public health, have instituted policies that violate our rights and endanger our democracy.”

Fortunato, who represents the 31st legislative district, said he would attempt to enter the building again on Wednesday, when the Senate is scheduled to vote. His statement does not say whether he will submit a negative test beforehand.


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Alec Regimbal is a politics reporter at SFGATE. He graduated from Western Washington University with a bachelor's degree in journalism. A Washington State native, Alec previously wrote for the Yakima Herald-Republic and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He also spent two years as a political aide in the Washington State Legislature.