Shorter leash for Inslee considered

Chapman: Unlikely to pass in current form

OLYMPIA — With one week under their belts and eight weeks to go, 24th District state lawmakers are predicting what might pass and what’s likely to fall by the wayside during the 60-day session that ends March 10.

Bills probably not making the cut include legislation limiting Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency powers, said state Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles, the only Democrat in the Democratic-controlled House to co-sponsor it.

But efforts to refine police reform legislation that raised the hackles of law enforcement agencies statewide may survive past March 10, Chapman, state Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend and state Rep. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim suggested Friday.

Feb. 3 is the last day to pass bills out of committee and send them to the floor of both chambers, except for House fiscal committees and the Senate’s Ways and Means and Transportation committees. The last day to pass bills in the house of origin is Feb. 15.

Van De Wege and Chapman are the only two of three Democrats among 44 lawmakers who are cosponsoring legislation in House and Senate to curb the governor’s emergency powers, which Inslee has wielded for 687 days since declaring a state of emergency Feb. 29, 2020, to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s a third of all lawmakers. Democrats have a 57-41 majority in the House and a 28-21 majority in the Senate.

SB 5039, co-sponsored by Van De Wege, would require legislative authority to continue an emergency 30 days after it is declared by the governor.

Under HB 1772, the governor gets 60 days.

“This bill in its current form is not going to go anywhere,” Chapman predicted.

“It would need to be bipartisan and need to have a solid vote to override any governor’s veto.”

SB 5039 was referred last week to the State Government and Elections Committee and HB 1772 to the State Government and Tribal Relations Committee.

Chapman said Friday the governor was given more emergency authority a few years ago under the notion that more time may be needed following an earthquake or other natural disaster.

“Nobody expected an emergency order would continue well into Year 2 with little legislative input,” Chapman said.

“A core belief for me is the Legislature is a co-equal branch of the executive branch.”

Chapman, who stresses bipartisanship — the lack of which he said was a main reason he did not support police reform measures last year — said he was an original sponsor of HB 1772 with Republican Rep. Chris Corry, a Yakima Republican and the House assistant minority floor leader.

“I did not think I would be the only Democrat,” Chapman said. “That bill may not move, but I’m not totally convinced the issue is completely dead for this session as far as the Legislature putting more sideboards on the emergency powers.”

Van De Wege called the state’s pandemic reopening plan spearheaded by Inslee “a disaster, an absolute disaster” at a time that Jefferson and Clallam counties had among the lowest COVID-19 rates in the state, a situation that has changed.

The 24th District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County. It has the third largest acreage among the state’s 49 districts, Chapman said.

Tharinger said he will look more closely at the emergency powers bill “if it goes anywhere,” predicting out of several hundred bills up for consideration in the short session, 20 percent may be passed into law.

“When you have a pandemic that’s moving very fast and being driven by science, do you want to add a political layer to that, which I’m not convinced is advantageous,” the six-term Democrat said.

“It’s a tough issue, the balance between having an executive able to make a decision in a very timely manner around a crisis and having an extended political process that can delay action.”

Tharinger, chair of the capital budget committee, said there are bills that both massage and repeal police reform legislation.

“I don’t think repeal is the right word. They need to be adjusted,” he said.

Tharinger cited HB 1735, which expands authority for the use of physical force and clarifies the definition of de-escalation tactics.

Van De Wege is a prime sponsor of SB 5577, which includes changes that would restore the reasonable suspicion standard for vehicle pursuits and eliminate the probable-cause threshold, the same standard for making an arrest or conducting a search.

“Last year’s reforms addressed the use of physical force without clearly stating what constitutes physical force,” Van De Wege said last week in a press release.

“This bill provides a fuller definition based on an objective standard that can be applied consistently by our law enforcement agencies.”

“We need to redo it, rethink it, rework it,” Van De Wege said Friday of the police reform legislation.

Chapman, chair of the Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said he expects his committee will move forward legislation to conserve at least 1 million acres of working forests and to reforest at least 1 million acres by 2040. A public hearing is Tuesday.

HB 1895 is being proposed in partnership with the state Department of Natural Resources, which initiated the Washington Evergreen initiative.

“This is a good bill for those of us who live in rural areas and have lots of DNR land in place,” Chapman said.

Tharinger, on the appropriations committee, said the panel last week moved HB 1732 out of committee. It delays imposition of a 0.58 percent premium on employee wages by 18 months from Jan. 1 until July 1, 2023.

The proceeds will fund the Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Program enacted in 2019 to provide long-term services and supports benefits for those who need assistance with daily living. The bill delays the availability of services 18 months, from Jan. 1, 2025 to July 1, 2026.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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