FAQ on Governor’s Authority During an Emergency

FAQ on Governor’s Authority During an Emergency

What authority does the governor have in the case of an emergency?

  • RCW 43.06.220 acts as the primary source of the governor’s powers during times of emergency. These powers are quite broad. Specifically, subsections (1)(h) and (2)(g) are “catchalls” that grant the governor sweeping authority to prohibit actions in an effort to preserve life and health and to suspend laws that hinder emergency response.

Why does the governor have this authority? How long has it been in place?

  • The state of emergency laws codified in Sections 200-270 of Chapter 43.06 RCW were first enacted in 1969 with Senate Bill 392. At that time, the Legislature granted the governor the authority to prohibit certain actions and behaviors (the ones found in subsection (1) of RCW 43.06.220), but not did give him the power to suspend laws. This power came in 2008 when the Legislature unanimously passed Senate Bill 6950, which identified specific statutory obligations that could be suspended in an emergency. What Senate Bill 6950 did not include was the catchall power to suspend laws found in subsection (2)(g). The catchall power to suspend laws came about with Senate Bill 5260 in 2019. Senate Bill 5260 also removed the authority of the governor to prohibit the possession of firearms during an emergency.

How long can the proclamations be in effect?

  • RCW 43.06.220(4) restricts the suspension of state laws to a 30-day time period unless extended by the Legislature, or, if the Legislature is not in session, through an agreement of the leaders of the four corners of the Legislature.

Why do the governor’s proclamations mention that he is calling up the State Guard and National Guard?