Last chance for people to have a voice in COVID shutdown – should be top priority if special session is called
OLYMPIA – With adjournment of the 2021 Legislature fast approaching, Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, is calling on lawmakers to restore the people’s voice in COVID shutdown decisions and other public emergencies.
“If the Legislature goes home Sunday without taking action on the governor’s emergency powers, it will be regarded as the central failure of this year’s session,” Wilson said. “This was the top issue for the people when we opened our session in January. It still is. But when that final gavel falls, if we do nothing, we’ll still have one-man rule, and no opportunity for the public to have a voice.”
In a video released Friday, Wilson calls upon the Legislature to pass SB 5039, a measure that would require legislative approval if a governor wishes to extend an emergency declaration beyond 30 days. If the Legislature goes into special session, Wilson says the emergency-powers issue needs to be a top priority.
Fourteen months after Gov. Jay Inslee declared a COVID emergency and ordered the lockdown of businesses across the state, all decision-making authority remains with the governor’s office. State statutes gave the governor broad authority to issue executive orders because the Legislature was not in session when the emergency was declared. Lawmakers had an opportunity to take charge when the 2021 session opened in January. But in the first major vote of the session, Democratic majorities in the House and Senate ceded all decision-making authority to the governor indefinitely.
Concerns about arbitrary decision-making not justified by science have increasingly been sounded as the governor’s office has imposed on-again, off-again restrictions on business openings and occupancy. Thousands of businesses already have closed permanently, taking jobs with them. To date the governor has refused to name the criteria under which he will issue the final all-clear.
Lawmakers now are scrambling to bring their 105-day 2021 legislative session to a close. Adjournment is set for Sunday, though a special session remains a possibility if Democrats are unable to reach agreement on proposals for major tax increases, including a new state income tax and steep increases in gas prices.
During the session, majority Democrats repeatedly rebuffed Republican attempts to bring the emergency-powers issue to the House and Senate floors. A hearing early in session on a business reopening measure drew more than 1,600 people, one of the largest in legislative history – but Democrats permitted no votes on bills.
“Our majority colleagues had plenty of time this year to pass big tax increases despite the dead-set opposition of Washington voters,” Wilson said. “They spent months passing legislation designed to force Seattle-style thinking on the entire state, on everything from law enforcement to school curriculums. But when it comes to the Number One issue for the people of Washington – getting the state back to work – the Legislature has done nothing, except to tell the governor to keep up the good work.
“This is our last chance to take action and restore the people’s voice. Adjourning without action will leave things just where they are. And it will demonstrate to the entire state that this year’s Legislature is completely out of touch with the people of Washington.”