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Emergency powers bill dies in late-night debate

Brooklynn Hillemann

WNPA News Service

OLYMPIA — A bill that aimed to limit the governor’s emergency powers died in a late-night debate on the floor of the state Legislature just hours before the bill cutoff deadline last week.

Critics had hoped to limit the use of gubernatorial powers, like the ones Gov. Jay Inslee has used since February 2020 to control the spread of COVID-19.

Senate Bill 5909, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, passed the Senate and was being considered in the House.

House minority leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said after approximately 30 minutes of discussion considering the first proposed amendment, debate was suddenly stopped with Democrats pulling the bill off the floor.

House Speaker Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said representatives underestimated the amount of debate the bill would receive on the floor.

“It became clear during the first amendment that was offered that there was going to be a lot of debate,” she said. “A lot of speeches on the Republican side.”

Jinkins said she approached Wilcox and asked if his party would rather “pass the bill or give a lot of speeches.”

Wilcox said Republican members wanted to speak on the topic, resulting in the legislation being pulled from the floor.

“At that point, we were within 24 hours of cutoff, and other bills were dying as a result of it,” she said. “So, we moved on.”

Wilcox said the bill’s 1 a.m. introduction on the floor was the first opportunity representatives had to formally debate the issue of gubernatorial emergency power.

“You can imagine we have some people that have been feeling strongly about being able to share their views on that for the last two years and it was taken down in 20 minutes,” he said.

Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, said in a tweet the demise of the bill stems from a Republican “filibuster.”

However, the filibuster tactic of prolonging a debate to delay action is not allowed in either the state House or Senate.

“I wanted to run a reasonable bill,” Shewmake said in a follow-up tweet. “It’s been two years and we should be reforming the emergency powers based on recent experience. When we tried to run 5909, every Republican wanted to talk on the amendment. This drew out the clock on other priorities, so it was pulled.”

Rep. Drew Macewen, R-Union, said the filibuster claim is unsubstantiated, referencing previous floor debates lasting for hours.

A bill prohibiting the manufacture, distribution and sale of firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition was brought to the floor the same day, with legislators debating for over three hours.

“(Democrats) didn’t prioritize this bill,” Macewen said. “They didn’t prioritize true emergency power reform. They never have.”

More than two years ago, Inslee declared a statewide emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19.

Additional proclamations including stay-at-home orders, school closures and mask mandates were implemented as the pandemic progressed.

At the end of February, Inslee announced the state’s indoor mask mandate will end at 11:59 p.m. tonight.

However, he said he will maintain the emergency declaration.

He said the order is necessary to enforce a mask mandate within healthcare settings and protect individuals’ rights to continue wearing masks at work.

Additionally, it allows the state to utilize federal relief funding.

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This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

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