Majority should listen to bipartisan ideas for reforming emergency-powers law

OLYMPIA… A second bipartisan bill to reform Washington’s emergency-powers law has received the same icy reception from the Senate’s Democratic majority as the first proposal, according to Sen. Lynda Wilson, prime sponsor of both measures.

Neither Senate Bill 5039 nor the BALANCE Act, SB 5943, will be considered Friday by the Senate state-government committee. The committee will only be allowed to accept public testimony about SB 5909, a partisan bill that would do virtually nothing to balance the roles of the legislative branch and executive branch when a state of emergency is declared.

“Almost 700 days into this state of emergency, our Senate Democrat colleagues are finally acknowledging there’s an issue involving emergency powers. In that light, Friday’s committee hearing is a step forward, but it’s unfortunate that the conversation will be limited to a bill that falls short of the real reform necessary to return to the representative form of government our constitution prescribes. Now our only option is to focus the conversation on addressing the weaknesses in that legislation.

“Either of our bills would simply build on what the Legislature started in 2019, when it gave overwhelming bipartisan support to a proposal that allows our branch to ‘check’ the less restrictive emergency orders from the governor. The BALANCE Act even has some common ground with the bill that finally came forward from the majority, but it also is being treated as dead on arrival,” she added.

Wilson hopes Friday’s testimony will convince the committee chair, Democratic Sen. Sam Hunt of Olympia, to allow amendments that move SB 5909 closer to the BALANCE Act.

“The best outcome this year would be a bill that expands state law to give the legislative branch authority over every emergency order, not just some of them, and creates a path for the Legislature to also end a state of emergency once it’s beyond a certain point,” said Wilson. “If the majority’s bill doesn’t come out of committee in that form, let’s have the conversation again on the Senate floor.”