By BRETT DAVIS
THE CENTER SQUARE SENIOR REPORTER
(The Center Square) — On Feb. 29, 2020, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the virus has since receded somewhat as a public health threat, as of Wednesday, Washingtonians were living under day 900 of that ongoing state of emergency.
Earlier this month, The Center Square asked if Gov. Inslee had any second thoughts about the duration of his emergency declaration. A press secretary indicated that was not the case.
“As for your questions about how long the order has been in place, this debate is more rhetorical than it is based on anything that has happened or could theoretically ever happen under the statute we have,” Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk said via email. “The governor has used his authority prudently to save lives, and his exercise of that authority has been upheld in court every time it was challenged.
“Most Washingtonians are not as concerned about whether the governor has an emergency order in place as they are over whether it is appropriate, helpful and effective at keeping their communities safe. It does those things without violating anyone’s rights or the separation of powers, as the results in our communities and in our courts continue to confirm.”
The Center Square then asked more than a dozen Washington residents across the political spectrum what they thought of the state of emergency as day 900 approached. The following is what those who responded had to say.
“Day 900 will be just another day for Gov. Inslee,” State Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said. “He obviously feels no pressure to end his state of emergency. He clearly has nothing to fear from the current legislative majorities, which have abdicated their constitutional role as a check on executive power. That needs to change.”
The Senate Republican leader continued, “We already know the emergency will still be in effect Oct. 27, because several proclamations come off then. I expect the governor is perfectly willing to let it reach the 1,000-day mark, which will be the day after Thanksgiving.
“Inslee’s office claims his response to the pandemic has worked. That is debatable, especially seeing how badly his policies failed people in long-term care and the schoolchildren of our state. Either way, it doesn’t justify continuing the state of emergency.
“If the governor cared what the people think, he would explain two things. One is why he believes the COVID situation still meets the conditions in state law for justifying a state of emergency. The other is how any of the emergency proclamations still in place after Oct. 27 will truly benefit the people of our state. If he can’t come up with credible responses, there’s no reason to let the state of emergency go on.”
House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said the long emergency was really a lack of accountability.
“This is the product of single party government where one part of the team will never hold the other accountable,” Rep. Wilcox said. “It’s an abject failure of Legislative Democratic Leadership to abdicate our branches’ constitutional role in government.”
University of Washington law professor Hugh Spitzer spoke to the legality of Gov. Inslee’s decision.
“I don’t have any comment on the policy issues involved,” he said. “But, given the increasing spread of the latest strains of COVID-19, the fairly inconsequential requirements that Gov. Inslee has left in place are probably legally justified.”
Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform at the free market Washington Policy Center think tank, believes that Washington’s emergency declaration process is broken.
“Long lasting emergency orders should receive the input and affirmative approval of lawmakers following a public process, allowing the perfection of policies through a collaborative weighing of all the options, alternatives and tradeoffs,” he said. “This is precisely why the people’s legislative branch of government exists – to deliberate and provide guidance to the executive branch on what policies should be in place and how to implement them.”
Mr. Mercier went on to say, “The governor should not fear being required to make the case to lawmakers why a particular emergency restriction is appropriate to continue, and the legislature should not hide from its constitutional responsibility to debate and adopt policy. At some point, the executive branch should be required to receive permission from the legislative branch to continue making far-reaching policies under an emergency order.”
Washington’s courts so far have declined to step in, though there have been murmurs.
Mr. Mercier referenced a recent 2-1 ruling by the Tacoma-based Washington State Court of Appeals Division II decision upholding the state’s prior mask mandate that contained a dissent by Judge Bernard Veljacic in which he encouraged more legislative oversight of emergency powers.
“Inslee-appointed Judge Veljacic is correct in his recent Court of Appeals dissent that ‘we must be careful with such broad grants of authority.’” Rep. Mercier said.
Brett Davis covers the Washington state government for The Center Square.