Senators call for action on emergency powers issue

People deserve a voice in COVID lockdown decisions, Wilson says

OLYMPIA – In the final hours of the 2021 legislative session, Senate Republicans are calling on majority Democrats to restore the people’s voice in COVID lockdown decisions and other public emergencies.

In a letter to Senate Democratic Leader Andy Billig, Republican senators observe that if the Legislature fails to act before going home for the year, all decisions regarding the COVID emergency, now in its 421st day, will continue to be made by the governor’s office without input from the people of Washington state.

Lawmakers are scheduled to end their 105-day legislative session today. A special session remains a possibility.

The letter urges Senate Democrats to relent and allow a vote of the full Senate on Senate Bill 5039, a measure that would subject the governor’s executive orders pursuant to emergency declarations to legislative review. “This would offer the Legislature and the public an opportunity to discuss the appropriateness of lockdown orders, bring balance to the decision-making process, and allow relief where needed,” the letter says.

The letter urges action before today’s adjournment, or, if the Legislature returns for a special session, that the bill be made a top priority.

Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, coordinated the letter-writing effort. Wilson is ranking Republican on the Senate State Government and Elections Committee, where the bill remained mired all session due to opposition from majority Democratic members.

“For the Legislature to adjourn without action on this issue is unconscionable,” Wilson said. “Reopening businesses and getting Washington back to work is a top priority for the people of my district and across the state.

“While we must respect that decisions must be made quickly when an emergency is declared, this situation has dragged on for more than a year. And in that time, the Legislature, the voice of the people, has been prevented from considering questions like, do lockdowns work? How severe should they be? Does the science adequately justify these decisions? Is there a better way?”

Lawmakers had a chance to ask the tough questions this year when they convened their 2021 legislative session in Olympia. But all opportunity for legislative oversight was blocked when, as the first major act of the session, majority Democrats passed a measure ceding the Legislature’s authority to the governor for the duration of the COVID emergency.

In the letter, Wilson and fellow Republicans note that the lockdown orders have had a severe effect on the Washington economy, forcing the closure of thousands of businesses after months of little or no income, and costing the jobs of the tens of thousands of Washington residents they employ.