Washington lawmakers to take another crack at emergency powers reform next session

Sen. Lynda Wilson is cosponsor of Senate Bill 5063; the legislation is known as the Bipartisan Approach to Legislative Authority Necessary in Continuing Emergencies.
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Sen. Lynda Wilson is cosponsor of Senate Bill 5063; the legislation is known as the Bipartisan Approach to Legislative Authority Necessary in Continuing Emergencies

Brett Davis
The Center Square Washington

After failing to pass emergency powers reform during this year’s legislative session, lawmakers look to make another attempt next year in the form of pre-filed Senate Bill 5063, cosponsored by Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, and Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah.

Lynda Wilson

The legislation is known as the Bipartisan Approach to Legislative Authority Necessary in Continuing Emergencies, or BALANCE, act of 2023 and would establish legislative oversight of gubernatorial powers during a declared emergency.

SB 5063 has three main provisions: 1) Allowing an in-session Legislature to pass a concurrent resolution terminating an emergency declaration; 2) Allowing all four members of the House and Senate leadership the ability to terminate an emergency declaration in writing when the Legislature is out of session and more than 90 days have passed since the declaration; and 3) Requiring restrictive declarations and suspension of law to expire after 30 days unless extended by the Legislature. When out of session, all four legislative leaders could extend such measures in writing.

“Sometimes a good idea has to be put back on the table to get the attention it deserves,” Wilson told The Center Square via email. “The BALANCE Act was never about interfering with the governor’s COVID state of emergency. It was and is about addressing a constitutional issue before another state of emergency is declared. The fact that we’ve reintroduced the bill after the COVID emergency should serve as proof of that.”

Gov. Jay Inslee ended his COVID state of emergency earlier this year after 975 days of it being in effect.

Oct. 31 was the last day of Inslee’s emergency declaration from Feb. 29, 2020, in response to the novel coronavirus that was spreading across the globe at the time. Under the state of emergency, the governor issued scores of additional proclamations ranging from shelter-in-place orders to school closures to a moratorium on evictions to vaccine and mask mandates.

“Anyone who believes in checks and balances should give it serious consideration,” Wilson continued. “At the very least, it deserves the discussion, which is what a hearing would do.” 

Her Senate colleague and bill co-sponsor agreed, but was wary of the legislation’s chances of becoming law.

“I don’t have a ton of hope it will pass,” Mullet told The Center Square, noting the fate of a weaker version of emergency powers reform legislation during this year’s legislative session.

Senate Bill 5909, which would have set up a process allowing legislative leaders to vote to end an emergency declaration if it had been in place for more than 90 days when the Legislature is out of session, ended up dying on the House floor just days before the March 10 end of session.

Another piece of emergency powers reform legislation – widely regarded as much stronger in terms of checking the governor’s power – failed to make it out of committee. House Bill 1772 would have subjected the governor’s emergency orders to legislative oversight after 60 days.

Mullet called the 2023 emergency powers reform bill “meaningful” and said he hoped it would get a hearing.

The Governor’s Office seems unconcerned, at least for the time being, about SB 5063.

“We haven’t reviewed the legislation,” Jaime Smith, Inslee’s director of communications, said in an email. “If it becomes something we need to weigh in on, we’ll evaluate it then.”

Inslee has repeatedly defended use of his emergency powers during the pandemic, claiming his actions saved lives.

The 2023 legislative session starts on Jan. 9 and ends on April 24.


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