The News Tribune: Tri-Citians ask WA lawmakers to limit governor’s power to declare emergencies

From The News Tribune comes the article ‘Balance of power.’ Tri-Citians ask WA lawmakers to limit governor’s power to declare emergencies.

A dozen people testified virtually Monday that Washington state lawmakers need more power to control the governor’s emergency powers.

Two Tri-City legislators, Reps. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, and Matt Boehnke, R-Kennewick, are co-sponsors of House Bill 1029, which is one of the most aggressive in putting limits on the governor’s emergency powers.

The public hearing before the House’s State Government and Tribal Relations committee brought out some conservative leaders and analysts, including Tim Eyman from Permanent Offense and Jason Mercier from the Washington Policy Center.

Several business owners and community members from across the state spoke for two minutes. And more than 150 others added their names in support of the measure, many from the Tri-Cities, including the Pasco Chamber of Commerce Director Colin Hastings and Stephen Simmons, a Franklin County precinct committee officer.

Another 120 people signed on in opposition to the bill.

The legislation stems from the nearly year-long emergency declared by Gov. Jay Inslee in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If passed, the bill would require the governor to get approval from the Legislature 14 days after any emergency proclamation.

If the Legislature isn’t in session, the governor would need to get approval from the majority and minority party leaders in the House and Senate.

It also introduces other limitations to the governor’s and local health leaders’ powers including:

  • Each emergency proclamation is limited to a single county. Multiple declarations would have to be filed.
  • Each declaration would need to spell out the “specific facts giving rise to the emergency.”
  • Local health districts that declare an emergency would need approval from the Legislature after 14 days.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said he is willing to negotiate the number of days or other restrictions. The most important element is that it introduces a check on the governor’s emergency powers.

“I believe the intent of our state law and of our public policy around emergencies is meant to be very narrowly tailored,” Walsh said. “It’s meant to give our executive really great awesome power for a short time.”

While it reached a public hearing, it’s unclear whether the committee will vote on it before a Feb. 15 deadline.

LOOKING FOR A LIMIT

Several people were concerned about the length of the state of emergency to respond to COVID. Some questioned whether the restrictions were necessary, others said it was simply important to have a limit on the governor’s power.

“We can agree 100 percent with every decision the governor has made, and still be disappointed about the balance of power,” said Mercier, the Washington Policy Center’s Kennewick-based director of the conservative think tank, Center for Government Reform.

He cited a study from the Maine Policy Institute that found Washington, Vermont, Ohio and Hawaii have the least restrictions on their governors when it comes to declaring and extending emergencies.

Nick Murray, with the institute, also testified for the measure, saying it’s important for a governor to come back to legislators to present his findings and explain why the state of emergency is still necessary.

“Whether it’s a Republican governor or a Democratic governor, you can’t have just one person in charge,” said Eyman, who ran for Washington state governor as a Republican in 2020 but lost in the primary.

For others, like single father Eric Pratt and business owner Tietje Miller, they said the COVID emergency has destroyed their lives and they wanted to see more oversight from the Legislature.

Mike Faulk, Inslee’s deputy communications director, has said the appropriate use of the emergency powers has saved lives. He has called the efforts “misguided” and said changes to the law in the middle of an emergency without more analysis could result in “unintended consequences.”