Emergency powers reform clears state Senate; Republicans claim bill ‘does nothing’
The Washington Senate approved a measure on Tuesday that enables legislative leaders to end a state of emergency after 90 days. Washington state is currently under an emergency proclamation that began in February 2020.
The measure passed on a 29-20 vote margin and will now be considered in the House.
Two bills were proposed in the Legislature to give lawmakers more authority to curtail the scope and length of an emergency proclamation. A Republican-backed version in the House failed to move out of committee hearings. The Democratic sponsored legislation passed in the Senate on Tuesday and will now move into the other chamber.
Republicans sponsored two amendments to Senate Bill 5909, which sought to rein in executive authority in an emergency. They largely considered the bill impotent as it does not require affirmative congressional action on a state of emergency after 90 days, and allows the Legislature to defer action on a state of emergency were they to choose to do so.
“This is a very straightforward amendment that simply puts the legislature back involved in the process in an extended emergency like the emergency we have been living through for almost two years,” John Braun (R- 20th Dist.) said Tuesday.
“The reason this is different from the underlying bill is the underlying bill just says the Legislature can weigh in if they choose, but they can do nothing and it’s OK,” Braun added.
The amendment was struck down during Senate floor debate, and the Republican caucus was vocal in their dissatisfaction with the bill as passed.
“What I can’t do is support a bill that I know essentially does nothing,” Sen. Jeff Holy (R-6th Dist.) added.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s office applauded the failure of the amendments in a written statement Tuesday.
“We’re pleased this legislation does not hinder our state’s current response to COVID,” Deputy Press Secretary Mike Faulk wrote. “The Senate wisely rejected multiple partisan amendments that would have ended our emergency response to COVID. So Washingtonians can be confident that our COVID strategy will continue to be based on health, science and the well-being of Washingtonians.”
“We still question the necessity of this bill,” Faulk continued. “The Legislature has concurred with the governor and his actions over the last two years, having approved dozens of emergency order extensions. Today’s vote did not change in any way the governor’s emergency orders. We look forward to moving to the next phase in our COVID response. The governor’s office will of course review the legislation to assure there are no issues in the language that would unnecessarily inhibit actions by future governors.”