State Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, released a statement last week announcing Democratic senators were blocking Senate Bill 5063 by refusing to give it a hearing in the Senate State Government and Elections Committee.
The bill is a bipartisan effort with state Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, to reform Washington’s 1969 emergency powers law. Wilson and Mullet prefiled the bill on Dec. 19.
According to Lynda Wilson, the committee’s top Republican, state Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, met recently with state Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, who chairs the committee, to discuss which bills he intended to give a hearing during this session. The Vancouver Republican’s SB 5063 was not among the bills Hunt intended to give a hearing, a requirement for the bill to advance in the legislative process.
“It’s disappointing that the Democrats have apparently decided so quickly against even discussing the idea of ensuring balance between the legislative and executive branches during whatever state of emergency comes next,” wrote Lynda Wilson in the statement. “You wonder why Senator Hunt, the committee chair, co-sponsored the changes made to the law in 2019 but reportedly won’t let the people be heard now that more reforms are clearly needed.”
The reforms enacted in 2019 allowed the state Legislature to limit some, but not all, gubernatorial proclamations during a state of emergency. SB 5063 would expand on those reforms to give the Legislature review over all emergency proclamations.
According to Lynda Wilson, in Washington state the power to both declare and end a state of emergency lies only with the governor, a system many other states don’t use. SB 5063, referred to as the Bipartisan Approach to Legislative Authority Necessary in Continuing Emergencies (BALANCE) Act, would allow the Legislature to end a state of emergency.
The BALANCE Act marks the third attempt by the bipartisan co-sponsors to reform emergency power laws since Gov. Inslee declared a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic on Feb. 29, 2020.
“Allowing one person to make the big calls alone clearly didn’t serve the people of our state well,” said Lynda Wilson. “I can imagine how the Democrats would react if a Republican governor were to hold onto emergency power for more than two years, and make some of the life-changing mistakes we saw from Governor Inslee during the pandemic. … There are more important matters facing the Legislature this year — public safety, the cost of living, and support for education — but the flaws in the emergency-powers law are obvious. If the Democrats have a problem with fixing them, let’s hear it.”