Senate passes emergency powers bill that ‘does next to nothing,’ Wilson says

To see video of Sen. Wilson’s speech on Republican amendment, click here.

 Weak Democratic reform proposal allows Legislature to duck responsibility, observes Longview senator

OLYMPIA – A bill that passed the Senate Tuesday placing a mild check on the governor’s emergency authority is a sorry excuse for reform that offers nothing meaningful to the people of Washington state, says Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview.

Wilson, ranking Republican on the Senate State Government and Elections Committee, joined most Republicans in opposing Senate Bill 5909, a Democratic proposal that cleared the Senate on a 29-20 vote.

The measure is prompted by the state’s longest-ever official emergency, now nearly two years in duration. Gov. Jay Inslee declared an emergency for COVID on Feb. 29, 2020, giving him sweeping powers to suspend laws and issue orders. Washington is one of just four states that allow their governors to decide when an emergency begins and ends, without reaffirmation by their legislatures.

“I’ve been talking about this issue since I got here last year,” Wilson said. “And some people may wonder why I voted against a bill that is being touted as emergency powers reform. The problem is that the bill does nothing meaningful and is reform in name only.

“It’s worse than doing nothing. We’re fixing nothing but saying we did.”

Senate Bill 5909 theoretically gives the state Legislature a tool to terminate a state of emergency. At a time when the Legislature is not in session, the bill would permit the leaders of the Legislature’s four political caucuses to end a state of emergency after 90 days, if all of them agree.

Wilson noted that the Legislature essentially has that power already. The state constitution allows the Legislature to call itself into session, at which time it can pass legislation on any subject, including termination of an emergency declaration.

Wilson joined Republicans in supporting a much tougher proposal, requiring the Legislature or caucus leaders to reaffirm an emergency declaration after 90 days. The Republican proposal was offered as an amendment, but was defeated on a caucus-line vote, 27-22.

Wilson said the Legislature abdicated its responsibility to provide oversight when majority members passed a resolution last year ceding authority to the governor for the duration.

“I’m glad my colleagues have decided this issue warrants attention,” Wilson said. “I’ve been saying that since Day One. But a proposal that does next to nothing is not a solution. The Legislature has already demonstrated its willingness to duck tough decisions when it can. When the governor’s party holds the majorities in the House and Senate, this is a recipe for inaction. And the people will continue to be shut out as long as we make it easy to avoid making a decision.”