Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton) today introduced a bill to strengthen Washington state’s checks and balances on gubernatorial powers during a state of emergency.

Senate Bill 5909 would add legislative oversight to declarations of states of emergency and prohibitive emergency orders during Legislative interim, adding to the oversight already in place regarding the governor’s power to waive or suspend statutes during a declared state of emergency.

“The pandemic made it clear – to my neighbors and to Washingtonians in every corner of our state – that our current system of government gives a lot of power to one person in the executive branch in times of emergency,” said Randall. “And if the Legislature isn’t in session during a declared emergency, there is no opportunity for legislators to make sure the concerns and priorities of our communities are a part of the decision-making process.

“Emergencies affect whole communities and, in the case of this pandemic, this emergency has affected our entire state. We will recover better together, more equitably and more quickly, when a body of duly elected legislators acting in direct service of our communities can be a part of that recovery. Right now, during interim, it’s up to one person: the governor. This bill aims to fix that.”

SB 5909 would empower the four members of the leadership of the Washington state House of Representatives and Senate – the majority and minority leader in the Senate and the Speaker and minority leader in the House – to terminate a state of emergency in writing if the Legislature is not in session and 90 days have passed since the state of emergency was declared by the governor.

The legislation would similarly allow for the termination of prohibitive emergency orders, like vaccine mandates or an eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, through four-corner agreement if the Legislature is not in session and 90 days have passed since the emergency order was established by the governor.

“At this time last year, when there were very few exposures in our community, we were lumped in with more severe communities in terms of restrictions, and many of our businesses were hurt needlessly,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), the lead cosponsor of SB 5909. “While the governor needs emergency powers to keep our state safe, we need the ability to be able to make sure any emergency orders reflect the conditions and needs of our community and not others’.”

SB 5909 would also make permanent the Bicameral Legislative Unanticipated Revenue Oversight Committee. Established in the 2021 operating budget and made up of 16 members of both caucuses in each chamber, the Oversight Committee establishes more rigorous legislative involvement in spending decisions related to federal funds without requiring that the Legislature convene a special session every time the state receives unanticipated federal funds. By codifying the Oversight Committee, SB 5909 improves public input and increases transparency in the allocation of federal funding.

The 2022 Legislative session is scheduled to last 60 days.