City of Yelm Rejects Current L&I Guidance on Vaccinations

Resolution Encourages Others to do the Same Regardless of Potential Legal Ramifications


Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Yelm Mayor JW Foster's comments following the approval of the resolution. 

The Yelm City Council approved a resolution to bar the city from collecting, storing and disseminating COVID-19 vaccination records at its June 8 city council meeting.

The decision comes in the wake of recent Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) guidance that asks employers to obtain the vaccination records of their employees in lieu of a mask-wearing policy. The records would be held by employers with the purpose of sharing the information with L&I should the department ask for it.

“First off, I want to start with, this is not a political thing,” said Councilmember James Blair, the resolution’s sponsor. “This is not about anyone’s views over COVID. This is not about wanting to get back at the state or anything like that. … This is about concerns over privacy. Period.”

Blair said no government entity should ask for the private medical information of its citizens. Although the state does ask for vaccination records of children for admittance to schools, Blair pointed out that such vaccines have been extensively tested, unlike those currently available to fight COVID-19.

He asserted the goal of the resolution is not to discourage people from making their own personal choice about whether to get the vaccine, but rather to target the alleged oversight of governmental entities.

“They should not be mandating private businesses to require this information from their employees in exchange for not wearing a mask anymore,” Blair said, adding that governmental entities have made multiple demands throughout the pandemic. “At some point, this has to end. How much longer are we going to let them keep doing this stuff?”

Councilmember Molly Carmody voiced opposition to the resolution, saying it was moot.

“The resolution really doesn’t hold any weight because the state of Washington already has all this information,” Carmody said. “I mean, when I got my vaccination, this information was already forwarded to the state of Washington as it was to the CDC. So the state already has my information. I don’t see the point in arguing about whether Yelm should collect that same information.”

As part of the resolution, the city encouraged other organizations in Yelm to follow its lead in not collecting, storing or disseminating COVID-19 vaccination records.

The potential legal repercussions of that move concerned Councilmember EJ Curry. Curry said resolutions are non-binding, meaning the city of Yelm’s insurance company does not have an obligation to defend those responsible for the resolution’s implementation.

She said if an organization, inspired by the resolution decided to follow Yelm’s lead and not document the COVID-19 vaccination status among its employees, then Yelm could be left in a vulnerable position.

“If somebody else (follows Yelm’s lead), and they get fined, they could turn around and sue the city because they were following what we did,” Curry said, asking whether she was correct in her assertion.

Mayor JW Foster confirmed Curry’s assessment is indeed a potential consequence of the resolution.

Curry suggested that organizations could then take action against the council members on an individual basis.

“According to the information that we get from our attorney and from the risk management agency that provides our insurance, yes that is correct,” Foster said.

Councilmember Tracey Wood said he was under the impression the city’s attorney had not had enough time to thoroughly look over the issue, so he echoed Blair’s sentiments.

“At what point do we put our foot down and say, ‘hey wait a minute, this isn’t how it works.’ This is still America, right?” Wood said. “This isn’t a normal thing for the government to be requesting medical records from people. ... At what point did it become OK for the government to request our medical information and require us to get an emergency-approved vaccination?”

The resolution was approved with a 5-2 vote with councilmembers Carmody and Curry voting in opposition.

After the vote, Foster spoke out against the resolution, essentially stating it was moot, since it did not supersede the state government’s authority. 

Foster said the councilmembers who voted in favor of the resolution had chosen to “pick and choose” the state authority they would follow.

“Your oath is no longer your word,” he said. “That’s on you.” 

He said that in practice, he intends to fulfill his oath of office, stating the resolution is non-binding, without the ability to prevent him from doing his job. He also said that L&I made it clear that the council can’t prevent it from doing its job either.

“If you want to change state law then you’re going to need a different approach than passing resolutions,” Foster said. “Good luck with that. Perhaps in 2022, with a new council and mayor in place, you can make up your own rules and convince the state of Washington to follow your enlightened lead. But from here on out, we’re still following the rules that were set out by Labor and Industries.”

Also at the meeting, Medic One Director Kurt Hardin made a presentation to council about the organization’s ballot proposal to restore the Medic One levy, which is currently at 29 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, to the original amount of 50 cents per $1,000, approved by voters in 1999.

Medic One in Thurston County provides additional medical personnel to aid in 911 emergency calls, if the need arises somewhere in the county.

The proposal would add 21 cents per $1,000 of assessed value over a span of six years.

Hardin said population growth in the county has increased call volumes. Operating costs for Medic One have increased by 5 percent each year for 10 years, creating the need to restore funding to its original amount, Hardin said.