What are House Republicans doing to rein in the governor’s emergency powers?

2023 Legislative Session

Emergency powers reform has been a priority for House Republicans since the fall of 2020. As the minority party, we have pursued many strategies (please see blue information box above) to advocate for and advance legislation. Some Democrats have expressed support for emergency powers reform while others were critical of the governor’s decisions during the pandemic. Unfortunately, in the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, Democratic leadership would not allow any legislation to move forward.

Democratic leadership and those Democrats who supported emergency powers reform in the past apparently had no interest in the issue in the 2023 legislative session.

House Republicans introduced House Bill 1535, a measure identical to what we proposed in 2022. In a news release, Rep. Chris Corry said: “This bill brings back representative government to Washington state and the oversight required by our state constitution. The Legislature and the people it represents must be allowed to resume its proper role during a prolonged state of emergency. It is vital this proposal gets a hearing and is passed by the Legislature this session.” Rep. Peter Abbarno said: “No one person should wield vast powers without checks and balances or a clear expiration date, even during an emergency. Living under an emergency declaration for nearly three years exposed a serious loophole in our laws governing emergency powers, and it’s incumbent on the Legislature, as the law-making body, to fix it.”

In a statement on February 3, Rep. Peter Abbarno urged immediate action on emergency powers reform – asking the chair of the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee to hold a public hearing on House Bill 1535. He said, in part: “Eventually, the memory of the pandemic will fade away, along with the important lessons we learned. We cannot allow history to repeat itself. We owe it to future generations to find the right balance between the executive’s ability to deal with emergencies and proper oversight from the Legislature. Let’s come together as Washingtonians this session, regardless of party, and do our job as legislators.” No public hearing was scheduled.

Senate Bill 5063, prime sponsored by Republican Sen. Lynda Wilson and co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mark Mullet, would establish balanced legislative oversight of gubernatorial powers during a declared emergency. Learn more here. This legislation also did not receive a public hearing in the Senate State Government and Elections Committee.

September 2022

At a news conference on September 8, 2022, Gov. Inslee announced the end of all remaining COVID-19 emergency proclamations and state of emergency by October 31, 2022. Learn more here.

2022 Legislative Session

On January 5, 2022, House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox sent a letter to Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins urging the passage of emergency powers reform and requesting that House Bill 1772 be heard in committee and brought to the House floor for a full vote.

Democrats stop House floor debate on emergency powers reform legislation

Senate Bill 5909, legislation related to the governor’s emergency powers, was brought to the House floor just after 1:00 a.m. on the morning of March 4. While the legislation was weak, described by editorial boards as doing “very little to change the status quo in Washington state” and “not adequate for the people of Washington,” House Republicans offered strong amendments that would have restored balance and trust to state government through real emergency powers reform. After just 20 minutes of debate, House Democrats stopped debate (see video below and here). They then killed the bill later in the day.

Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins said prior to the 2022 legislative session that she was “seeking balance” on emergency powers. In the end, nothing happened and the imbalance in state government remains. It simply was not a priority for House Democrats and they never challenged Gov. Jay Inslee.

House Republicans appreciate the Washingtonians who have fought for emergency powers reform, including those who signed up to testify on bills, and for the support of editorial boards across the state on the issue.

Below, you will see what we asked of Washingtonians in the 2022 legislative session. The response was incredible, with more than 5,200 people signing up to support House Bill 1772.

Support House Bill 1772 | Emergency powers reform

First, please learn more about and support bipartisan House Bill 1772 (Increasing legislative involvement in gubernatorial proclamations relating to a state of emergency). If you go to this link and click on “Comment on this bill,” you can share your comments and position on this bill directly with your state lawmakers.

Second, you can email, call, or send a letter to Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins expressing your support for emergency powers reform and House Bill 1772. Her contact information can be found here. You can also contact Gov. Jay Inslee on this issue. Please be respectful in your communications.

Third, let your voice be heard in the legislative process. There are many ways for you to be involved.

Finally, please share this information with friends and family.

June 2021

All throughout the spring and summer, House Republicans have continued to put pressure on the governor and legislative leaders to bring about emergency powers reform.  We’ve been sent press releases, written op-eds, hosted telephone town halls, written more letters, been guests on numerous radio programs – which you can find here.

“On June 30, Gov. Inslee took a victory lap around the state to celebrate the end to many of his COVID-19 restrictions. When asked by a reporter about emergency powers reform, the governor responded by saying, ‘I’m not sure you want to go back and reform when you won the Super Bowl. And we’ve won the Super Bowl of the COVID pandemic.’

To compare our state’s response, which has had a dramatic impact on people’s lives and livelihoods, to a game is just poor messaging. It also misses the larger point from those of us who think the balance of power needs to be restored in Olympia.”

—House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox

No matter your stance on vaccine mandates, mask mandates, the opening or closing of our economy, or the overall COVID-19 situation…perhaps there is one thing we can all agree upon: Our Founding Fathers never intended for one person to rule our state via order and decree for well over a year!

“There is only one person in the state of Washington who has the capability to save those lives right now, and it happens to be the governor of the state of Washington.”

—Gov. Jay Inslee

April 2021

By the end of session, with majority party leadership showing no interest in taking up emergency powers reform, one of our members joined up with a House Democrat in authoring an op-ed to The Seattle Times.

By this time, many major media outlets around the state agreed with us on emergency powers reform:

2021 Legislative Session

We sponsored several bills to reform the governor’s emergency powers and bring balance back to the governing process.

We recognize that millions of Washington citizens have had no voice in state government as Gov. Inslee has shut out legislators from around the state and prevented us from weighing on key issues that impact us all.

But again, instead of joining with us to reestablish legislative oversight of the governor’s actions, the majority party in Olympia failed to act.  In fact, one of the very first proposals voted on during the first week of session was Senate Concurrent Resolution 8402, which further extended the governor’s emergency powers.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 8402 bundled up 26 emergency orders and extended them “until the termination of the state of emergency…or until rescinded by gubernatorial or legislative action.”

It passed with no Republican support as we spent hours on the House floor fighting this misguided and unprecedented power grab by the executive branch.

November 2020

In the fall of 2020, our leadership team again openly called for a special session to specifically address emergency powers reform.  By this time, the state had been run by one person for nearly 10 months!  However, majority party Democrats failed to join in our effort.

Before the 2021 legislative began in January, House Republicans made “emergency powers reform” one of our legislative priorities for the session.

June 2020

In the late spring and summer of 2020, many House Republicans were openly calling for a special session to address the seemingly weekly decrees emanating from the governor’s office.  While being completely locked out of the governing process, legislators banned together to write letters to the governor’s office asking for explanations, further information on his executive orders, legal justifications, and more.

We did NOT ABDICATE OUR LEGISLATIVE POWER to the governor. Due to election-year restrictions and ethics laws, Republican state representatives were not allowed to discuss these letters or any of their efforts in legislative communications – such as email updates, newsletters, news releases, videos, and telephone town halls – from May 11 through November 3, 2020. The governor had no such restrictions and could hold as many news conferences and send out as many news releases as he wanted.

March 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit our state in March of 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee began a process of ruling by decree through emergency powers. While some might argue this was justified due to the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus pandemic, House Republicans began sounding the alarm on the governor’s emergency powers as early as April 2020, including the fact he had no clear and comprehensive plan to restart our state economy.