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OPINION

Emergency powers reform bills die without a floor debate

 

February 18, 2021



It is painfully clear that the majority party legislative leadership in the House and Senate have no intention of debating if checks and balances are needed on the Governor’s emergency powers. All of the emergency powers reform bills and economic reopening metric proposals died yesterday without ever receiving a floor debate. This is occurring while the Governor says he currently has no Phase 3 or Phase 4 plans and one region was initially wrongly held behind from Phase 2 due to data errors. This has resulted in the Mayor of Kennewick publicly demanding an apology from the Governor for making condescending comments about area residents.

The lack of debate on these reforms in Washington is in stark contrast to what is happening elsewhere in the country. Consider the following:

• In Hawaii–Democratic Rep. Scott Nishimoto: “There needs to be checks. I think that is what my constituents were concerned about, that the governor has unilateral power to do things indefinitely and there is a lack of community input.”

• In West Virginia–”Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, spoke up in support of the amendment, saying the governor ‘has been operating the state like a king since March.’”

• In New Mexico–Democratic Rep. Daymon Ely: “What I told my colleagues on my side of the aisle is, look, regardless of who the governor is, Democrat or Republican, our system works better when all three branches of government are involved in an issue.”

• In New York–Democratic Sen. Julia Salazar: “Without exception, the New York State Constitution calls for the Legislature to govern as a co-equal branch of government. While COVID-19 has tested the limits of our people and state–and, early during the pandemic, required the government to restructure decision making to render rapid, necessary public health judgements–it is clear that the expanded emergency powers granted to the Governor are no longer appropriate.”

With no current plan for future reopening phases and the chance for additional data errors in the future, it is still essential for lawmakers to take back the decision making for our economic livelihoods. We need to remember that Phase 2 isn’t victory. Unless the legislature acts to restore balance in this decision-making process before sessions ends, we will continue on this opening/closing yo-yo with ever changing metrics.

One person behind closed doors should not have indefinite power to make decisions affecting every aspect of our lives, especially emergency orders that caused deep emotional pain, soaring unemployment, cut family incomes and closed tens of thousands of businesses, many permanently.

This is precisely why the people’s legislative branch of government exists–to deliberate and provide guidance to the executive branch on what policies should be in place and how to implement them. It is time for lawmakers to do their job and restore the balance of power.

Jason Mercier is the Center for Government Reform Director for the Washington Policy Center at the Tri-Cities office.

 
 

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