(The Center Square) – State Reps. Chris Corry, R-Yakima, and Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, have introduced a new bill in the House of Representatives to put a legislative check on the governor’s emergency powers.
House Bill 1535 would, among other things, limit a state of emergency to 60 days unless extended by the Legislature and allow lawmakers to terminate specific restrictions enacted under that emergency order.
The legislation is identical to House Bill 1772, also sponsored by Corry, from last year’s legislative session in response to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s declared COVID-19 state of emergency that ended up lasting more than two-and-a-half years.
Inslee declared the state of emergency on Feb. 29, 2020, and ended it on Oct. 31, 2022, 975 days after it went into effect.
“This bill brings back representative government to Washington state and the oversight required by our state constitution,” Corry said in statement. “The Legislature and the people it represents must be allowed to resume its proper role during a prolonged state of emergency. It is vital this proposal gets a hearing and is passed by the Legislature this session.”
It's time for one-man rule to end, according to Abbarno.
“No one person should wield vast powers without checks and balances or a clear expiration date, even during an emergency,” he said in the same statement. “Living under an emergency declaration for nearly three years exposed a serious loophole in our laws governing emergency powers, and it’s incumbent on the Legislature, as the law-making body, to fix it.”
Corry continued in that same vein.
“There must be limits,” he said. “The framers of our state constitution never intended for the governor to wield the kind of power he maintained for nearly three years. Clearly, when quick action is needed, the executive branch must be able to respond. But when a state of emergency lasts for months or even years, it's difficult to justify prolonged unilateral – nearly autocratic – authority by the executive branch. The public must have a voice in how to move forward. That’s the job of the Legislature.”
Inslee has long maintained he exercised his office’s emergency powers to good effect during the pandemic.
In announcing the end of the state of emergency last year, Inslee’s office touted Washington as having the fifth-lowest COVID-19 death rate in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and noted that every county in the state has low community transmission levels.
Inslee’s office said if the entire country had the same death rate as Washington, around 433,000 lives could have been saved.
Whether HB 1535 is passed by the Legislature this session remains to be seen, but it doesn’t seem likely.
Another emergency powers reform measure was introduced earlier this session, Senate Bill 5063. Sponsors Sens. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, and Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, lamented word that the Senate State Government & Elections Committee will ignore the legislation.
Lawmakers failed to pass emergency powers reform during the last two legislative sessions.