In recent weeks, many citizens have written to me requesting that the Legislature take action to address the COVID-19 crisis. The reality is that the Legislature’s formal power to act in this crisis is limited; it is the governor who has broad authority during times of emergency. While legislators have oversight over some of the emergency orders issued so far, others, such as the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, do not require any legislative input or approval. As we look to the future, the Legislature must have a much stronger role during emergencies.
As state legislators during this pandemic, we find ourselves in a new role: Approving or denying the governor’s requests to extend the suspension of specific state statutes and regulations beyond his authorized period of 30 days. While the Legislature is not in session, the leaders of the state’s four caucuses — Speaker of the House, majority leader of the Senate, and minority leaders of the House and Senate — make these decisions with input from their caucuses. To date, legislators have acted to extend most, but not all, of Gov. Jay Inslee’s requests to waive statutes and regulations beyond 30 days.
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