More than 5,400 people signed in at Monday afternoon’s virtual public hearing before the Senate State Government and Tribal Relations Committee on a bill that would require legislative oversight of Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency powers.
The vast majority of those signed were pro-House Bill 1772, which would limit the governor’s state of emergency powers to 60 days, unless extended by the legislature.
If enacted, the bill would also limit the governor’s executive orders prohibiting certain actions during a state of emergency to 30 days, unless extended by the legislature.
Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Corry, R-Yakima, explained his rationale for the legislation.
“In the event of emergency, there is no doubt that our state needs quick response necessary to align state and federal resources to address any situation, especially when the legislature is not in session,” he told the committee. “These powers should be limited in nature to protect lives and restore order.”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shown Washington state is “lacking in needed checks and balance and legislative oversight and input on those powers,” Corry said.
The two-year anniversary of Inslee declaring a statewide emergency in response to the spread of the virus is less than a month away. In that time, Inslee has issued scores of proclamations meant to combat the pandemic, including stay-at-home orders, school closure orders, a moratorium on evictions, and a vaccine mandate.
“House Bill 1772 is really designed to restore those checks and balances and put governance back where it belongs: with the governed,” Corry said.
Most of the people who testified on the bill agreed.
Concerned citizen Eric Pratt spoke in favor of the legislation.
“In addition to the language presented in House Bill 1772, I might also suggest we include measures to prevent exploitation by the power hungry and hold our elected officials accountable, should boundaries be overstepped,” he said. “Stop escaping our duty and start standing with the people of Washington in support of their role in their own governance.”
Pratt concluded, “Let’s begin now and work together to undo the damage caused by two years of bondage and its rule by press conference. Thank you.”
Anti-tax proponent and former gubernatorial hopeful Tim Eyman made a novel argument in favor of the legislation, although he said he signed in as “other” because he doesn’t believe in the governor’s emergency power at all.
“My name is Tim Eyman,” he said. “I’m from Bellevue and a ran for governor. I lost. But imagine if I had won. I want every Democrat on the committee to imagine it was Gov. Eyman in his 700th day, having unilateral control over the government. Instead of sending a billion dollars to Nigeria, I send a billion dollars to the Freedom Foundation. Instead of him shutting down certain businesses and others, I say you don’t have to pay your car tabs at all. At a certain point I believe you have to keep the checks and balances that we have.”
Some who gave virtual testimony spoke out against the bill, including Joe Kendo, government affairs director with the Washington State Labor Council.
“Because Gov. Inslee had sufficient emergency powers afforded him under the law, he was able to take steps during this pandemic using the best available information to keep our members safe, and especially those whose jobs were critical to the function of society which cannot be done from the safety of one’s own home,” Kendo told the committee.
Kendo said Inslee’s emergency powers helped improve safety standards at construction sites during the worst of the pandemic and freed up personal protection equipment for stretched-thin hospitals.
Governors around the country are not doing too much, he contended, but rather they are doing too little.
Many thousand more might not have died of COVID-19 had other states adopted measures like the ones Inslee implemented in Washington state, Kendo said.
On Friday, there was a similar turnout of people at a public hearing before the Senate State Government and Elections Committee on Senate Bill 5909, which would set up a process so that legislative leaders can vote to end an emergency proclamation if it has been in place for more than 90 days when the legislature is out of session.
SB 5909 is scheduled to go to executive session at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.
This article was originally posted on Thousand more weigh in on legislation to limit governor’s emergency powers