Time to Address the Emergency Powers Act
By Guest Columnist Nancy Churchill
On Feb. 29, 2020, utilizing the Emergency Powers Act, Governor Jay Inslee issued Proclamation 20-05 declaring a state of emergency for COVID-19 (bit.ly/3Glp8tL). As of Dec. 5, 2021, that’s 646 days of “emergency”.
While the Washington State Emergency Powers Act, as defined in RCW 43.06.220, was written to allow quick action to be taken before legislators could become organized, I doubt it was ever the intention of the legislature to completely and permanently cede its authority to the governor for 646 days (and counting).
Yet, that is exactly what has happened. On Nov. 16, 2021, a presentation on emergency powers given to the Senate Committee on Government and Elections by the committee staff (bit.ly/3lECXeJ) lays the situation out very clearly in the summary on slide 7: The state of emergency is proclaimed by the governor, and only the governor ends it.
Furthermore, according to the Washington State House Republicans’ “FAQ on Governor’s Authority During an Emergency” (tinyurl.com/2s3sukhu), “While the emergency law extends extraordinary power to the governor, it drastically limits the Legislature’s role in emergencies. It does not allow the Legislature to determine when a state of emergency ends—that power is given solely to the governor. Additionally, the governor does not need legislative approval to extend “prohibitions” of the law…”
Our state constitution outlines and defines three branches of government, with the legislature responsible for representing the will of the people and creating law in a collaborative fashion. The flaw in the Emergency Powers Act that limits the role of the legislature needs to be immediately addressed as soon as the 2022 Legislative Session begins on Jan. 10th.
In the last session, Republican state lawmakers introduced several bills which would have changed the Emergency Powers Act to limit the extent of the governor’s authority and to restore the balance of power by expanding the legislature’s oversight role in extended emergencies (bit.ly/3ooahsk).
The Senate Republicans introduced SB 5039 (bit.ly/31oxYrV). The House Republicans introduced HB 1557 (bit.ly/3ora8V9). Both these bills were rejected by Democratic leadership and were not allowed out of committee for a vote by the legislature. Why? Why do Democrat Legislators prefer to give up their power and authority to the governor? Why do they fail at their responsibility to represent their constituents? Why do they subvert our legislative process to effectively turn Washington state into a dictatorship?
This emergency powers problem is much bigger than a judgment about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the current governor during this health crisis. This is about restoring the balance of power that was defined in our Washington State Constitution. Are we still a system of elected representatives, or do we agree to live in a one-man dictatorship?
What can you, personally, do to impact this issue? It may seem cliché, but the very simple act of commenting on the two bills is very powerful. If you have Democrat legislators, it’s especially important that you comment – not just once, but over and over. We need focused and concentrated effort from the citizens in order to influence our Democrat Legislators to buck the Governor’s significant power. To influence the House, please go to the Bill Info Page for HB 1557 (bit.ly/3ora8V9). Click on the button that says “Comment on this bill.” Your comment will go to your representatives, so be pleasant but firm: Please work to bring this bill to the floor for a vote!”. To influence the Senate, visit the Bill info page for SB 5039 (bit.ly/31oxYrV). Again, click on “comment on this bill.” Always be polite, but make the request for the bill to be brought to the floor for a vote. Getting these bills out of committee and on the floor for a debate and vote would be a step in the right direction! And remember, you CAN comment on these bills more than once! You could even have a legislative action party, and gather your friends and community members together to discuss emergency powers and help each other learn the steps to take these peaceful and appropriate actions to re-engage in the political process. It’s time for “we the people” to rediscover our political duties and responsibilities. It’s time to participate in government!
To learn more about peaceful participation in state government, please visit www.influencingolympia.com for more information!
Nancy Churchill is the state committeewoman for the Ferry County Republican Party. She may be reached at DangerousRhetoric@pm.me. The opinions expressed in Dangerous Rhetoric are her own.