WA Legislature considers limits on Gov. Inslee's emergency powers

Washington Governor’s Jay Inslee’s State of the State speech was primarily about efforts he wants to see to address environmental issues and climate change.

"I can encapsulate the state of our state very simply – we need action," said Inslee during his televised address to legislators and the public on Tuesday.

He did address efforts to combat the spread and impacts of COVID-19, proposing to reinvest $900 million to help schools address student’s critical needs.

FULL STORY: Gov. Inslee calls on Washington lawmakers for ‘bold’ action in State of the State speech

"To keep schools open, we must invest more to deal with COVID and address learning opportunity loss," he said.

What he didn’t address is what is shaping up to be a bipartisan effort to curb his emergency powers. Many Republican lawmakers and some Democrats believe there needs to be some legislative oversight when it comes to the length of a state of emergency.

It’s been 679 days since the Governor declared a state of emergency regarding COVID.

Two bills, HB 1772 in the House of Representatives and SB 5039 in the Senate would put either a 60- or 30-day limit on the length of an emergency declaration. Anything beyond that would require legislature to be consulted before additional emergency declarations are made.

"It doesn't hurt the current governor, it just says the legislature should take responsibility for things that happen during extended emergencies," said JT Wilcox, Republican and House Minority Leader.

Many Republicans have complained that the Governor has been responding to the COVID emergency 'unchecked,' and the law that give the Governor emergency powers didn’t anticipate emergencies that lasted years.

"It will give us a check on executive power that no one would've ever imagined would extend for going on 700 days now" says Wilcox.

HB 1772 does have Democratic co-sponsors. The Speaker of the House, Democrat Laurie Jinkins told the Seattle City Club that there may be an appetite for oversight of the governor’s emergency powers.

"This has been and is an emergency," she said. "But also that there needs to be oversight of these emergency powers, I have a feeling that the theme of this session is seeking balance."

What may become one of the most controversial part of HB 1772 is a line that says the governor is prohibited from reinstating the same or substantively similar state of emergency when the original has expired.

"We’ve held [the state of emergency] so long that I do fear that people become apathetic to the state of emergency," says Republican 7th District Representative Jacquelin Maycumber, who supports the curb on emergency powers.

Responding to a request for comment about the bills, Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office said, "After everything we have gone through and continue to experience, there is no plausible reason to pass laws that would limit the tools we have to protect public health."

READ MORE: WA lawmakers eye 'tweaking' police reform laws as 2022 legislative session opens

RELATED: Simon Sefzik to replace late Sen. Doug Ericksen in Washington Senate

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