Legislation to limit Washington governor’s emergency powers faces uncertain future2 min read
During a televised legislative preview days before the Legislature’s opening, Washington State House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, added oversight of the governor’s emergency powers to her theme of “finding balance” this year, after last year’s more activist session.
“There needs to be more oversight of these emergency powers,” Jenkins said.
The Legislature has moved bills forward to find “balance” on several fronts, from correcting some of the admitted mistakes of last year’s police reform bills (i.e., the accidental outlawing of .50 caliber beanbag rounds) to delaying the WA Cares long term care program. Still, emergency powers reform faces an uncertain future.
Gov. Jay Inslee invoked his emergency powers at the start of the pandemic and has exercised those powers for almost two years now, with little formal oversight from the legislative branch of government.
Emergency powers bills in both houses of the Legislature have been introduced: HB 1772 in the state House and SB 5909 in the state Senate. These bills have both been assigned to committees. SB 5909 has a public hearing scheduled for Jan. 28.
Both bills would still allow for gubernatorial emergency powers but limit their duration and not allow them to be permanently extended by a series of shorter declarations. Also, both bills have some bipartisan support, judging by sponsorship.
House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox said he would support similar legislation even if a fellow Republican were the governor rather than Democrat Inslee.
Yet it remains unclear that this reform would make it into law even if passed by the Legislature. Inslee could veto it, requiring a two-thirds vote majority to override.
When asked if Inslee would veto the legislation, the governor’s office was noncommittal.
“We don’t speculate about bill action,” replied Inslee’s Deputy Communications Director Mike Faulk.
Most of the sponsors of the legislation in the Senate were asked if they believed the governor would sign such a reform or if the legislature would vote to override his veto if he issues one.
“You will have to ask the governor that question,” said Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia.
Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, was hopeful that the governor would sign it or that the legislature would vote to override a veto to insist on more legislative oversight if he goes that route.
“Yes and yes,” she said. “But those are just guesses.”
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