Republican leaders in the state Senate responded to Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement ending the COVID-19 state of emergency on Thursday by criticizing his administration for not acting sooner.
“The state of emergency could and should have ended long ago. For a time it was justified, because of what we didn’t know about COVID. Unfortunately, there came a point when Governor Inslee began drifting away from the data and toward other metrics that seemed more political than scientific,” said Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia.
Braun argued Inslee overreached in his executive authority at the expense of other branches of government. The Senate leader additionally argued that Inslee’s defense of pointing to low COVID-19 related deaths could be misleading, claiming the benefits of the restrictions may have been outweighed by the costs for residents of long-term care facilities and school children.
“I hope we can all learn from those mistakes and reform the state’s emergency-powers law accordingly in the next legislative session,” Braun said.
Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, who serves as the top Republican on the Senate State Government Committee, argued the length of the state of emergency had created difficult conditions for Washington residents.
“Halloween is my favorite holiday, and it seems entirely appropriate to me that we would be ending this nightmare on a day reserved for horror,” said Wilson. “This has been a ghastly experience for everyone. And I’m not just talking about COVID.”
For Wilson, the duration of the state of emergency, which will have lasted 976 days when it expires Oct. 31, reflected a need to update state law. According to Wilson, Inslee and Democrats in the Legislature have resisted changes to what he considers “sensible” changes to state laws regarding emergency powers.
“Our state’s emergency-powers law is more than 50 years old and doesn’t account for the technology that now allows legislators to meet and make decisions remotely. For the past two years Senate Republicans proposed sensible reforms that would complete an update of the law and finally allow the legislative branch to serve as a full check on executive-branch actions once an emergency goes beyond 30 days. The governor showed no interest in our ideas, nor did his allies in the current legislative majority, and I heard nothing from him today to suggest a change of heart,” said Wilson. “This lengthy period of one-man rule really was an abuse of our emergency statutes. They are designed to allow a governor to take quick action in an emergency, over the short term, until the Legislature can convene and play the role it’s supposed to, as the voice of the people.”
Like Braun, Wilson argued Inslee failed to consider the costs of the COVID-19 restrictions and emphasized the need for reforms to prevent another perceived executive overreach from occuring in a future emergency.
“Now that this governance nightmare is finally coming to an end, we’re going to need to have a serious conversation in the Legislature about reforming our emergency statutes. I hope the end of this emergency will allow us to consider the matter like grown-ups,” said Wilson, before closing his statement with a criticism of Inslee’s vaccine mandate for state workers. “Meantime, the governor is giving us reason to celebrate Halloween. I hope he keeps up the holiday spirit through Christmas, by restoring the jobs of all the thousands of state workers he fired or forced to quit because they objected to his heavy-handed vaccination decree. It’s time we start thinking about mercy.”