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Lawmakers, protesters prepare for legislative session in Olympia next week

As has been the case for several months, the campus was open to visitors, but vehicle traffic has been restricted. The Washington Legislature's 2021 session is scheduled to open on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Out-of-control crowds in Washington, D.C., and Olympia are part of the reason one local group is canceling its plans to demonstrate at the state capitol in Olympia every day during the legislative session, which starts Monday.

State Patrol disperses protesters on grounds of governor’s mansion

Tyler Miller with Liberty, At All Hazards was helping to organize an action to protest the fact that the public cannot enter legislative chambers this year to see and interact with legislators in person.

“The likelihood of our event being infiltrated and hijacked was just too great to risk other peoples’ lives,” Miller told KIRO Radio.

Public testimony and observation will be online only due to COVID-19 restrictions.

He says other demonstrators still may carry out their plans to be outside the doors to legislative buildings each day during the session.

Miller says he’s frustrated that lawless protesters have made it impossible for others to be safe, or heard.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are defending their plan to open the legislative session in person on Monday.

Leaders from both parties spoke during an online preview of the legislative session hosted by The Associated Press on Thursday, saying that the state Constitution requires lawmakers to meet in person, that gathering in the Capitol would be safer than elsewhere, and that it is crucial to demonstrate that lawmakers will not be intimidated from doing the peoples’ business.

“While our democratic republic is fragile in a lot of ways, it is also as tough as nails,” said Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma. “The elected representatives want to exercise their constitutional duties and responsibilities, and we intend to do that.”

The Capitol building will remain closed to the public and lobbyists during the 105-day session due to the pandemic, and lawmakers will do their work through a mix of virtual meetings and on-site votes. Lawmakers’ agenda includes dealing with pressing issues related to the pandemic, such as support for struggling businesses and renters, and police reform.

A right-wing militia had encouraged its members to occupy the Capitol when the Legislature meets, and that intention was echoed by several of those who broke down a gate outside the governor’s mansion Wednesday and stormed the porch and front yard. An armed participant used pepper spray on one journalist and threatened others, including an AP photographer, with death if they didn’t leave within five minutes.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee acknowledged Thursday that the Washington State Patrol did not have adequate resources outside the mansion. He said he was disappointed and could not explain why the police response was so meager compared to the robust law enforcement presence Black Lives Matter demonstrators faced earlier this year on the Capitol campus.

“We’re going to have to get answers,” he said.

The governor said he planned to meet late Thursday with Washington State Patrol Chief John Baptiste and Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty of the Washington National Guard to discuss whether to call out the National Guard to help ensure peace next week.

“Whether the guard is or is not involved, we’re committed to security,” Inslee said.

The outnumbered troopers did not make arrests, apparently for fear of further inciting the crowd, but the patrol has said it will investigate.

Inslee thanked journalists for working professionally in the face of threats and called on Republicans who have long tolerated or fanned the president’s lies to help break the spell of his “hallucinatory, cult-like activities.” He also called Trump a “cancer” and said he must be removed from office by any legal means necessary.

KIRO Radio’s Diane Duthweiler and AP Correspondent Rachel La Corte contributed to this report.

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