Washington Legislature Won’t Limit Gov. Jay Inslee’s Indefinite, Dictatorial COVID Emergency Powers

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee is probably the most succinct person to sum up public health officials’ mentality during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Jay Inslee.

“There’s only one person in Washington that has the capacity to save these lives now,” Inslee told a local TV station in October. He was a Democrat.

Inslee’s “only-I can save you” approach to the pandemic is not very logical, even if one ignores the fact that 7.6 million residents of his state have human agency. Imagine that Inslee’s governor declared that he is the sole responsible for stopping traffic fatalities and drownings. It was 18 months after the pandemic hit, but in that same October interview, Inslee pushed back against the idea that there should be some timetable for rescinding the emergency powers he’d seized at the outset—powers that he’d used to shut down some businesses as well as “ban crowds, shut down schools, require vaccinations for some employment, and require masks to be worn,” according to The Seattle Times.

Inslee has been announcing an emergency for more than two decades. They were stopped by the Washington State Legislature this month. Instead, legislators shrugged.

Senate Bill 5999, an emergency power bill that would have limited the legislative sessions to 90 days, was not voted on by the state House. The bill would have limited emergency orders to no more than 90 days, but some supporters of the efforts were trying to amend that down to 60 days or 30 days—similar to reforms that have passed in several other states.

“We need to be able to have a say in what happens in the state,” Rep. Mike Steele (R–Chelan) told 560 KPQ News Radio.

His colleagues were not as supportive, despite Inslee’s use of Washington State’s emergency powers law which, among the most expansive, in the nation. This gives the governor the authority to ban “such other activities that he or she reasonably believes should not be permitted to preserve and maintain life and health or the public order,” without any limitations.

There are many things that could go wrong.

In the February issue, I wrote about this. There are reasonsAlthough there are many state laws that provide emergency powers, these laws can be vague and undefined in some states. However, until the COVID-19 pandemic they were used primarily for severe storms and earthquakes. These are emergency situations in the real sense of the word: it is only for limited circumstances that it makes sense to interrupt the normal governing process and direct an immediate response by the chief executive.

Two-year-old epidemics are not considered an emergency. However, they remain a crucial policy matter. A crisis with no end in sight that excludes the legislature from the process breaks the feedback loop on which representative democracy depends. The government would have to provide protection for people if they didn’t make individual decisions. No matter what Inslee might think, he was not solely responsible for the outcome of the pandemic in his state—nor would he want to be held singularly responsible for the more than 12,000 COVID deaths that occurred there, I’m sure.

Washington State legislators might not have seized the chance to restrain their governor. However, similar efforts are underway elsewhere.

Some state legislators are trying to end Gov. According to the, Brad Little has a two-year-old emergency declaration. Idaho Capital Sun.

Minnesota’s Democratic governor. Minnesota, where Democratic Gov. Tim Walz kept it on emergency footing for 474 Days, has lawmakers pushed for a bill that would limit these declarations at 30 day, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

In Wisconsin, the Assembly approved a law prohibiting the governors of closing “nonessential”, i.e., businesses, in the event of an emergency declared. It was also done in other states prior to the outbreak of the pandemic.

That’s on top of reforms passed last year in places including Kentucky, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—which remains the only state where voters have weighed in on whether to limit gubernatorial emergency powers.

Jason Mercier is the director of Washington Policy Center’s center for government reform. He writes, “Having watched the crisis powers debate in the nation for the past few years, it remains dumbfounded why Washington’s legislative majority is content with ceding its constitutional role for debate and enact political policy to the governor.” Governors should be prepared to explain to legislators why an emergency restriction should continue. The legislature must not ignore its constitutional obligation to discuss and approve policy.