OLYMPIA — 4-H clubs could be hurt by Gov. Jay Inslee ordering state workers, contractors and volunteers to be vaccinated against COVID by Oct. 18, four Republican state senators say.
Washington State University Extension oversees the 4-H program and informed volunteers last week that the governor's vaccination mandate applies to them.
The four lawmakers, who represent agricultural districts in Eastern Washington, said the order reaches too far, dictating to volunteers who aren't state employees while ignoring other ways to prevent COVID.
"The governor wants us living in a bubble, and it's not how life works," said Sen. Shelly Short, who represents northeast Washington.
"I'm not anti-vaccination. I take COVID seriously. I think it's smart for people to stay safe," she said. "I think we can do that without a mandate and taking away someone's choice."
Teachers, health-care providers and others who work in heath-care settings also must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. Inslee issued the order in August, citing a rising number of COVID cases and noting that more than 2 million Washington residents older than 16 remained unvaccinated.
"It only takes one person to create a super-spreader event," Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said in an email Wednesday. "It is illogical to exclude any group of folks based on something as arbitrary as whether or not they are paid."
4-H clubs resumed in-person activities this summer after Inslee relaxed COVID-related restrictions. Masks were required for indoor but not outdoor activities.
Moses Lake Sen. Judy Warnick, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate agriculture committee, said she heard concerns about the upcoming vaccination requirement for 4-H volunteers while attending county fairs.
She said she believes the governor's order will increase resistance to vaccinations.
"People are digging in their heels," Warnick said. "I'm concerned 4-H is just going to be a thing of the past.
"I think we would get more compliance if people were encouraged to be vaccinated, and it is their choice," she said.
4-H State Program Leader Nancy Deringer said in an email she was concern about how the mandate will affect the program.
"We greatly value the tremendous and ongoing work our 4-H volunteers do for our 4-H Youth Development program, and we want to do everything we can to keep them and the 4-H youth safe and healthy," she said. "But more than that, we are obligated to follow the vaccination mandate, and that includes 4-H volunteers, who are clearly stipulated in the governor’s proclamation."
In a letter to volunteers, WSU Extension said it was following the governor's order. "WSU Extension is aware of the challenges and frustrations this imposes," the letter stated.
Sens. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, and Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, joined Warnick and Short in issuing a press release criticizing applying the vaccination order to 4-H volunteers.
"It’s one thing for the state to mandate COVID vaccination requirements for state workers and education employees, but when this mandate is even imposed on 4-H volunteers, it makes you wonder where does this stop," Schoesler said in a statement.
"The end result could be fewer people volunteering in 4-H, which would hurt the kids who participate, and it will ultimately hurt Washington agriculture," he said.