OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Majority Democrats in the Legislature are indicating they may be open to putting restrictions on the governor’s broad emergency powers as Washington’s COVID-19 state of emergency approaches two years.
Northwest Public News reports the Senate’s State Government and Elections Committee held a public hearing Friday on a proposal from state Sen. Emily Randall, a Democrat, which would authorize top leaders in the House and Senate — if they all agreed — to terminate a governor-declared state of emergency after 90 days.
“There is a gap in the checks and balances of our system of government,” Randall told the committee. “There is a place where we don’t have an equal balance of power and this bill aims to address that.”
Randall’s bill, which has seven other Democratic cosponsors, would also allow the majority and minority leaders in the Senate and the speaker and minority leader of the House to end any gubernatorial order that prohibits activities.
Additionally, Randall’s bill would make permanent the Legislature’s current role in helping to decide how federal funds are spent during an emergency.
This new legislative oversight during a state of emergency would apply only when the Legislature isn’t in session. The bill does not address the Legislature’s role in managing an emergency while in session.
Currently, Washington’s emergency powers law places no time limits on the length of a state of emergency. It also allows the governor to issue sweeping emergency proclamations, such as Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay home order early on in the pandemic.
The Legislature’s role is limited to approving or rejecting any waiver or suspension of state law after 30 days — something it’s done dozens of times since the start of the pandemic. If the Legislature is in session, then the entire House and Senate must vote on those extensions. When lawmakers are not in session, the job falls to the top leaders in each legislative caucus.
Minority Republicans, who’ve opposed many of Inslee’s COVID-19 orders, have been calling for months to make changes to the state’s emergency powers act.
“Almost 700 days into this state of emergency, our Senate Democrat colleagues are finally acknowledging there’s an issue involving emergency powers,” said Republican state Sen. Lynda Wilson in a statement.