Senate passes emergency-powers bill without Republican improvements

OLYMPIA… Senate Republican Leader John Braun and Sen. Lynda Wilson, prime sponsor of two bipartisan bills to reform Washington’s emergency-powers law, offered this statement today following the passage of Senate Bill 5909. The measure received a 29-20 vote, after amendments offered by Wilson, R-Vancouver, and Braun, R-Centralia, were turned down by majority Democrats.

“Senate Republicans had hoped to turn this unimpressive measure into something meaningful, based on lessons learned from a state of emergency that is at 718 days and counting. The majority Democrats said no to our efforts to add effective checks and balances. That meant the only option available was a bill that falls short of providing the level of reform in the bipartisan proposal we introduced more than a year ago.

“On paper, what the Senate passed today would seem to grant the legislative branch the ability to end any emergency order, and also end a declaration of emergency – but in practice this bill would do almost nothing to balance the roles of the legislative and executive branches. By rejecting our amendments and allowing the prohibitive emergency orders – like mask mandates – to continue indefinitely unless there’s a unanimous vote to end them, the majority is making sure the law would still favor the executive branch.

“Republicans believe prohibitive orders should automatically expire after a set number of days unless legislators agree to extend them. We view that as the more meaningful reform, and it’s consistent with the bipartisan reform adopted in 2019 concerning orders that suspend laws. We’re confident there would have been full Republican support for the bill today if the Democratic majority had agreed with the changes we offered.

“No one should hail this as a victory for the people, or as a major challenge to the governor’s authority. What this vote does most is spare our colleagues in the majority from having to go home and admit to constituents that they had ignored the emergency-powers question for a second straight year. But it’s only a matter of time before the people realize how little this bill actually would do, and they’ll be disappointed. Whether the House follows through or not, we will be back at this issue again in 2023.”