The legislature is now in session, which means our break from politics was too short – and it didn’t take long for Gov. Jay Inslee’s use of his emergency powers to be called into question.
Do we really want the decision between opening and closing businesses and schools, or who should wear masks, to be left to political debate between partisan officials who might be running for office?
We are not alone. In about half of the states, the use of emergency powers by governors is in question in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In most states, the challenge comes from Republican lawmakers who want governors’ emergency powers to end after 30 days, unless extended by the state legislature. They would also like to limit the power of governors to close schools and businesses.
Most states follow a model written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that promotes limited government. However, some state legislatures only meet every two years, and others, like ours, only meet a few weeks each year. We alternate between a long session in odd years and a short session in even years. Indeed, having all the lobbyists in Olympia is a great way to update your mailing lists for fundraising after the session. In even years, everyone wants to leave Olympia to campaign.
Inslee has received criticism for his use of his emergency powers and for failing to call a special session to solicit comments from the Legislature.
When COVID-19 started, no one knew what it was, how it got here or how long it would last. Inslee’s priorities were following scientific advice and saving lives. He tried to make the subject as apolitical as possible by not calling a special session, although I suspect he consulted with Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. Inslee has been around for a while, and he knows strange and unexpected things can happen when the Legislature is in session. The fact that his decisions were raised so early in the session illustrates how quickly anything can turn political.
Plus, Inslee doesn’t want to create a political scene for his political opponents. And anyway, it wasn’t really the governor’s authority – it was about holding elections for 2022 and 2024, with Republicans maneuvering to have vulnerable members of the Democratic House officially listed on some. topics. If the situations were reversed, the Democrats would do the same.
It was not only the opposing party who criticized the governor. Inslee backed Democrat Ingrid Anderson in a 5th Legislative District primary battle with incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Mullet. Mullet won and then teamed up with Lynda Wilson, a Republican from the 17th Legislative District, on a bill that would require emergency orders from the government to get legislative approval in 30 days, including shutting down businesses . Politics are often at the root of most decisions, but Inslee actually did what most of us would like to think we would have done if we were in the same position – relying on medical experts and scientists.
Inslee also held press conferences almost daily to make sure the public knew how and why they were making the decisions they were making. Do we really want the Legislature to debate what physicians or scientific experts “wanted” or “said” in political debate? Inslee has been flexible in her work with business and has been open to suggestions from school district superintendents.
In an example from another state, the Idaho legislature wants to strip Gov. Brad Little’s power to prevent citizens from going to work. The way the question is asked can sometimes change the answer. With what we know now, this debate could have cost us many more lives. Protecting individual rights is important, but the greatest good is protecting as many of our citizens as possible. Some people think that wearing a mask is not manly. But should their right to individual expression endanger others?
In addition to the Mullet-Wilson bill, there was another for the Washington State Department of Health, which also had a 30-day requirement. But to reduce the political staging and prevent something unexpected from happening, no public hearing was scheduled and Democratic legislative leaders voted to extend the bills indefinitely. When the Legislature leaves town in April, Governor Inslee’s powers will still be in place.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact [email protected]