Gov. Jay Inslee
Gov. Jay Inslee

At the end of Washington state’s legislative session in late April, Gov. Jay Inslee praised lawmakers in the state House and Senate for “a historic and truly extraordinary session … as all-encompassing as any legislative session of the past 25 years.”

However, recent days have made it clear that not every law emerging from the state legislature has met with Inslee’s full approval. Inslee has issued a number of partial and full vetoes to a variety of bills, drawing anger from across the political spectrum, as well as from nonpartisan actors.

The most significant of the Governor’s vetoes concern climate change legislation. On May 17, Inslee signed laws creating a statewide program to cap carbon emissions and set a clean fuels standard, but he  vetoed language in the bill that linked them to funding for a major statewide transportation initiative. The transport aspect of the bill had been an important part of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, and leaders from both parties argued that Inslee’s actions undermined trust. House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said Inslee’s action “reached beyond his constitutional powers,” while Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, bluntly called his move “illegal.” 

Another climate-related veto stirred up ever more anger. Inslee struck down part of SB 5126 — the carbon-cap bill — that required consultation with Native American tribal leaders over climate change-related projects on tribal lands. Inslee’s spokesperson said that the bill “was written so broadly that would have made it possible to challenge just about any related project anywhere in the state.” 

Native American leaders, however, were unhappy. Fawn Sharp, the president of the National Congress of American Indians, called it “the most egregious and shameless betrayal of a deal I have ever witnessed from a politician of any party, at any level.”

She went so far as to call Inslee “a snake.”

The veto opens up the possibility that projects such as wind farms and solar power stations might be built over lands that tribes rely on for hunting, fishing and collecting medicinal roots and herbs.

The following day, May 18, Inslee issued another veto that irked his Democratic allies. He struck down HB 1127, a bill that regulates the collection of COVID-19 patient data for patient privacy, in its entirety.

An Inslee spokesperson issued a statement saying that the language of the bill was “very broad.” A person familiar with Inslee’s rationale told the Washington State Wire that HB 1127 would make it harder for the state to promote COVID vaccination to Washingtonians.

However, Rep. Vandana Slatter, D-Bellevue, who holds a doctorate of pharmacy and a master of public administration from the University of Washington, said in a statement that she was disappointed by the Inslee’s decision.

“Absent laws and regulations that build consumer confidence in the protection, security, and use of personal health data, we lose an important tool to combat current and future public health threats …,” she said. “Every Washingtonian should feel confident that their COVID-19 health data will only be used for this purpose.”

Inslee does not have the last word on these pieces of legislation. It is possible that some or all of these vetoes will face legal challenges. Jinkins expressly promised to bring Inslee’s veto of transportation funding to court.

Last year, two of Inslee’s vetoes were invalidated by a judge in Thurston County, and the state Supreme Court is expected to hear the cases this June. If Inslee’s opponents follow through on their legal challenges, the fate of this year’s vetoed bills will likely not be decided until mid-2022.