When finally given the chance to provide comment more than 10,000 Washingtonians signed in for the public hearings on HB 1772 and SB 5909 to reform the state’s emergency powers.
Despite the huge public outcry, HB 1772 did not receive a committee vote.
The Senate did advance SB 5909 but rejected floor amendments that would have required affirmative legislative approval after a set period of time.
By not requiring affirmative legislative approval to continue an emergency order, not much will change from the status quo if SB 5909 becomes law.
This is not a complicated debate.
Either Washington should join the vast majority of the country by providing meaningful legislative oversight for executive emergency powers or the Governor will continue to be empowered to make decisions behind closed doors for an indefinite period of time without the need to receive legislative signoff.
Harmonizing the existing law so that both waiving of statute and restrictive proclamations expire after 30 days unless the legislature votes to continue should not be controversial.
There is no logical reason to treat those emergency actions by the Governor differently.
Requiring legislative approval after 30 days removes not a single tool from the Governor’s toolbox.
All existing authority remains, the only change is that the close-door policy- making is required to be justified to the people’s legislative branch of government to continue a policy (i.e., the separations of power and checks and balances envisioned and promised under our republican form of government).
At some point the executive branch should be required to receive permission from the legislative branch to continue making far-reaching policies under an emergency order.
Our system is not meant to be the arbitrary rule of one behind closed doors. It is time to end governance by press conference and return to the normal public legislative process.
Either the legislature believes it serves an important role in debating and approving policy for the people of Washington or it is comfortable with turning the keys of the state over to one person to act behind closed doors without receiving approval by lawmakers.
By not adopting either of the proposed floor amendments requiring affirmative legislative approval, SB 5909 is emergency powers reform in name only.
Jason Mercier is the director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center. He is based out of the Tri-Cities. area.