Gov. Inslee ‘not excited’ about emergency powers reform, thousands voice support

Jan 31, 2022, 5:58 PM | Updated: Feb 1, 2022, 10:14 am
Gov Inslee, emergency powers...
Gov. Jay Inslee. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Washington state Legislature is considering two bills to reform the scope of Gov. Jay Inslee’s ability to exercise a State of Emergency proclamation.

The Legislature received public comment on Senate Bill 5909 on Jan. 28, and on House Bill 1772 on Jan. 31. Between the two bills, more than 10,000 members of the public signed up to be heard by the Legislature, the majority giving voice in affirmation of either bill.

For Friday’s public hearing, 5,457 people called in, most of whom support SB 5909.

On Monday, 5,405 individuals signed up for public comment on HB 1772. Nearly 5,300 called into the remote hearing to support the emergency powers curtailment. Conversely, 118 were against. The remainder did not declare which way they leaned.

The cutoff for legislation to receive a vote on the floor is Feb. 3 (with the exception of bills related to transportation or budget which have a Feb. 7 deadline). All bills must be voted out of committee before that time.

SB 5909 is sponsored by Democrats, introduced by Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton). It places a 90-day check on a State of Emergency proclamation, unless otherwise cleared by House and Senate leadership.

Democrat-backed bill would give Legislature more control of emergency powers

“This puts into law one piece that we put into the budget last session, which says that when we get significant federal funds, instead of only the governor having a say, we ensure that the Legislature has a say in the process of spending those unanticipated receipts,” Randall told KIRO Newsradio’s Hanna Scott.

“The other thing it does is allow for a Four Corners decision of the Legislature — the leadership of the House and the leadership of the Senate of both parties — to unanimously act after 90 days on emergency orders,” Randall added.

When asked about the effect the outpouring of public testimony had on the legislative process, Randall described the hearing as “informative.”

“For me, this bill is about ensuring that we have good government processes moving forward. It’s not a political attack on any one particular of the governor’s orders,” Randall said Monday.

“I didn’t bring it because I feel like we didn’t make so many of the right choices in keeping Washington healthy [during the pandemic]. We need to learn from the pandemic and ensure that our system of checks and balances and the balance of power are the right ones,” she said. “So I think the hearing was certainly informative. … We’ll keep advocating for the right version of the bill to pass.”

Republican sponsored HB 1772, led by Rep. Chris Corry (R-Yakima), takes a more aggressive approach to emergency powers. The bill limits a State of Emergency to 60 days, unless otherwise authorized by the Legislature.

“These powers should be limited in nature to protect lives and restore order,” Corry said in Monday’s committee hearing.

“In the state of Washington, we have very broad emergency powers,” he continued. “And during the COVID pandemic, that has become very clear that we are lacking in needed checks and balances and legislative oversight and input on those powers. We’re actually one of only a few states that don’t have any checks or oversight on emergency powers. House Bill 1772 is really designed to restore those checks and balances and put governance back where it belongs — with the government. “

Gov. Inslee was asked about the two bills in a Jan. 27 news conference, in which he described them largely as unnecessary, citing that the Legislature has confirmed 26 of his executive orders, all of which have been upheld in court.

“I’m not sure it’s really necessary because the Legislature already has opportunities to make decisions … during the last few years,” Gov. Inslee said.

“The Legislature has embraced what we’re doing,” the governor continued. “We’ve been working in partnership with the Legislature for two years. They have been with us, so I don’t think that it’s some big threat that it will remove the good decisions that we’ve made.”

“I really am not excited about it because I think we will continue on this path of working together to make good decisions. … The legislature, over 700 days, have acted in concert with us. They have actually confirmed … 26 of my orders, and 42 times we’ve been challenged in court and we won 42 times,” Inslee said. “… They recognize we have saved lives. We might have lost [thousands] more lives have we not acted together, so I don’t think there’s a particular threat here. I think we’ll continue on the straight and narrow.”

KIRO Newsradio’s Hanna Scott contributed to this report.

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Gov. Inslee ‘not excited’ about emergency powers reform, thousands voice support