House Republicans introduce emergency powers reform bill to restore balance, trust in state government

House Bill 1772 sponsored by Rep. Chris Corry of Yakima

“Prioritizing this legislation, giving it a public hearing and allowing members of the House and Senate to vote on it, would not only restore the balance of power in our state government, but also trust — by giving authority back to the people we represent,” said Corry.

Rep. Chris Corry has introduced a bill to reform the state's emergency powers laws. Washington is one of only four states in the nation that hands over unilateral authority to the governor to declare and maintain a state of emergency (SOE). During a prolonged SOE, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the legislative branch, which represents the voice of the people, has an extremely limited role in determining the policies set forth by the executive branch in Washington state.

Corry, R-Yakima, says that needs to change.

“There must be limits. The framers of our state constitution never intended for the governor to wield the kind of power he's maintained for more than 22 months now. Clearly, when quick action is needed, the executive branch must be able to respond. But when a state of emergency lasts for months or even years, it's difficult to justify prolonged unilateral — nearly autocratic — authority by the executive branch,” said Corry. “The public must have a voice in how to move forward. That's the job of the Legislature.”

Recognizing that confronting immediate emergencies often requires leadership from the executive branch, Corry's proposal simply asserts that long-lasting states of emergency, defined as more than 60 days, require legislative involvement.

The 14th District lawmaker's proposal, House Bill 1772, seeks to make the following emergency powers reforms:

  • Allows the Legislature to pass a concurrent resolution declaring the termination of a SOE;
  • During a SOE, the governor or Legislature may call a special session, consistent with the state constitution's guidelines, to vote on a concurrent resolution to extend a SOE.
  • If the Legislature is not in session, the SOE may also be terminated in writing by unanimous agreement of all four leaders in the House and Senate;
  • Sixty days after being signed by the governor, unless extended by the Legislature by a concurrent resolution, the SOE will be terminated;
  • Prohibits the governor from reinstating the same or substantively similar SOE when the original has expired;
  • When needed, multiple extensions of an SOE may be issued by the Legislature; or, when the Legislature is not in session, by unanimous agreement of all four leaders of the House and Senate;
  • Requires clarification of changes to law made through an executive proclamation; all such changes must be defined and shown fully in the law, along with any changes made over time; and
  • Changes any violation of the statute from a gross misdemeanor to a civil infraction of up to $1,000 dollars.

Although several emergency powers reform bills were proposed during the 2021 session, including House Bills 1020, 1029, 1060, and 1557, only one was given a public hearing in committee.

Corry says that after nearly two years of a state of emergency with virtually no input from the public on the proclamations issued by the governor, he hopes the Legislature is ready to make these crucial adjustments.

“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,” concluded Corry.

The 60-day legislative session begins Jan. 10.

Learn more:

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov