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Legislative proposal to weaken governor's emergency powers runs into opposition

The Washington state Capitol building in Olympia.
The Washington state Capitol building in Olympia.
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The effort to curb the governor’s emergency powers that once had strong bi-partisan support is now running into strong opposition at the state Capitol from some critics who insist that the law does not go far enough.

State lawmakers on Monday discussed the measure, known as SB 5909, during a House committee meeting.

For some, it seems like a lifetime ago when Gov. Jay Inslee announced at the start of the COVID pandemic that he was taking emergency action to start shutting down schools and businesses while also severely restricting activities.

Democratic and Republican sponsors of the bills say one-person control in Washington state has gone on for too long.

'Republican lawmakers, however, have been thwarted in their effort to make the bill stronger by adding amendments.

“This is a straightforward amendment,” said state Sen. John Braun, Republican leader during a Feb. 15 meeting. “It essentially puts the legislature back involved in the process in an extended emergency like the extended emergency we’ve been living through for almost two years.”

But the effort was turned down by Democrats and at Monday’s hearing on the measure, with most testimony indicating opposition to the bill.

“Anything that was bi-partisan has not been approved,” said Reni Storm of Yelm. “So, in looking at this I have to ask where is the paper tiger here? It doesn’t have any teeth.”

“We all benefit from the deliberations of issues through legislators rather than large decisions being made by a single person in the executive branch of government,” testified Angela Baldwin of Bonney Lake. “The legislative branch deliberates and gives guidance to the executive branch, not the other way around.”

A bill to limit the governor’s emergency powers to 90 days before the legislature can weigh in passed the state Senate. But Republicans argue it’s not strong enough and tried but failed to get amendments that would actually force a decision at 90 days.

“My hope is that we can actually tighten up the emergency powers checks and balances,” said Rep. Chris Corry, R-Yakima. “One of the fundamental differences between (Senate bill) 5909 and my bill, House bill 1772, is that there is no action date for the legislature.

"It says basically after 90 days if the four corners agree to do something they can do something. But otherwise, it goes unchecked," Corry said. "And they want a say in this. I think a lot of them, Republican and Democrat have said two years is too much."

In order to advance, the bill would need a vote in the committee before going to the full House for a vote. If the bill gets amended, it has to go back to the Senate.

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Inslee has said he does not believe the bill is needed, but he has not said whether he would veto it.

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