As legislatures across the country spent the past year restoring the balance of power and ensuring some sort of legislative oversight over the emergency powers, Washington’s democratic legislature prevented any serious review or vote on the numerous proposed bipartisan reform bills.
Based on a recent Senate working session, our lawmakers may finally be ready to keep their vital role in the way we are governed.
On November 16, the Senate Government and Elections Committee held a working session entitled “Legislative Role in State Emergencies.” Committee members heard three presentations: an update by staff on the emergency powers statutes; Update of the National Conference of State Legislatures on Legislative Oversight of Emergency Executive Powers; and my presentation “Requireing Legislative Oversight of Emergency Powers”.
As I told the committee, in an emergency, governors need extensive powers to act quickly. Legislative bodies inevitably take longer to assemble and act than a single executive, so they temporarily delegate their powers to the executive in the event of an emergency. But these powers are intended to be delegated for a limited period of time.
For example, in Wisconsin, a state of emergency cannot exceed 60 days unless extended by a joint decision of the legislature, and in Minnesota, a governor must convene a special session if a “peacetime” emergency lasts longer than 30 days.
When situations persist over a longer period of time, longer-term strategies must be implemented and a legislator must discuss the risks, benefits and tradeoffs of different approaches. The legislature may end up adopting the very policies that the governor would like to see implemented, but they do so after deliberation as representatives of the people and in a public process.
It is the legislature, not the governor, who is responsible for making legislation and the governor is responsible for implementing the laws passed by the legislature.
However, Washington has very weak legal emergency oversight, according to a national study: “Vermont, Washington, Ohio and Hawaii are among the worst-ranking states because they give their governors sole power to determine when and where an emergency occurs.” and when there is no longer an emergency. ”
Interestingly, the Hawaii House spokesman announced earlier this month his plans to require legislative oversight of emergency powers in his state: “I don’t think anyone would agree that a proclamation should go on forever,” the spokesman said of the House of Representatives, Scott Saiki. “I will be working on a bill that will allow the legislature to reject the governor’s emergency proclamation in principle, be it the entire proclamation or just part of the proclamation.”
Whether there should be emergency reform is not a partisan debate, but a fundamental institutional question about the role of the legislature and representative government.
As for Washington State, I have encouraged the committee to reform the state’s emergency powers in a way very similar to what is proposed by bipartisan SB 5039 Orders After 30 Days Unless It Is An Urgent Order, which was formulated exclusively for the eligibility for federal funds. These types of administrative orders, which do not impose mandates or restrictions on citizens, would be exempt from the obligation to obtain a legal extension.
This type of reform would ensure that any emergency governor ordinance would be subject to at least some sort of legislative oversight, while maintaining the flexibility to issue very narrow orders to receive federal aid.
Long-term emergency ordinances should, following a public process, receive input from 147 lawmakers from across Washington State, allowing the guidelines to be perfected by weighing all options, alternatives, and compromises together. This is precisely why the people’s legislature exists – to advise and give the executive guidance on what policies should be in place and how they should be implemented.
Whether 14, 30, 45 or 60 days, at some point the executive should have to obtain permission from the legislature in order to continue to take far-reaching measures within the framework of an emergency ordinance. Our system is not meant to be arbitrary rule behind closed doors. It is time to end governance through a press conference and return to normal public law-making. Even during a prolonged emergency, the controls and balance of our representative government must be maintained and accepted.