FILE - Olympia Capitol

The Washington state capitol building in Olympia, Washington.

(The Center Square) – At least one Democrat blames Republicans for the the failure of the Washington State Legislature to pass emergency powers reform this session.

Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, claims a Republican "filibuster" doomed any hopes of the legislature exercising real oversight of the governor's emergency powers in the form of Senate Bill 5909 dying on the House floor in the wee hours of Friday morning. 

“Republican filibuster killed SB 5909 on emergency powers reform. #waleg,” Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, tweeted on Friday afternoon.

There is no filibuster power in Washington state, in either the state House or the Senate, and Democrats have comfortable majorities in both bodies. That allows them to pass many bills without any Republican support.

In a follow-up tweet, Shewmake gave her version of what happened regarding the legislation.

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

Shewmake concluded with another tweet: “The hope was a deal could be reached to do the bill quickly.”

At around 1 a.m. on Friday, floor debate on SB 5909 began. After approximately 30 minutes of discussion on a proposed amendment by Rep. Chris Corry, R-Yakima, that would add some teeth to the legislation by ending a state of emergency after 60 days unless extended by the legislature, debate was suddenly stopped.

No substantive explanation was given.

“The Speaker wants to let members know that we’re going to defer action on this bill, but it will retain its place on the second reading calendar,” said Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, Speaker Pro Tempore.

Corry was prime sponsor of House Bill 1772, widely considered a much stronger bill in terms of checking the governor’s power. He did not reply to multiple requests for comment from The Center Square, but he did tell Washington Policy Center's Jason Mercier that he was "was disappointed that 1772 was not moved out of committee.”

Corry said he believes his proposed amendment would have enhanced the legislation, which many view as emergency powers reform in name only.

“My hope was we could take 5909 and improve the bill,” he said. “I offered an amendment on the floor to add a requirement for the legislature to modify, end or extend a state of emergency after 60 days and align legislature approval of prohibiting activities with their current authority on approval of statute waivers.”

The public has been left out of the equation, according to Corry.

“It is important that people have a say in ongoing states of emergency,” he said. “This isn’t about the current emergency orders. It is about addressing an imbalance in our state's governance. Unfortunately, after only 30 minutes of discussion, the Democrats pulled the bill.”

On Feb. 29, 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19 under the Emergency Powers Act of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 43.06.220. Since then, he has issued scores of additional proclamations, including stay-at-home orders, school closures, an eviction moratorium, and mask and vaccine mandates.

On Feb. 28, Inslee announced the March 12 end of the state’s indoor mask requirement, which was moved up from the original March 21 date. The state’s outdoor mask mandate ended on Feb. 18.

On Monday, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, and Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 8405, “Resolving that the COVID-19 state of emergency should be ended.”

Staff Reporter

Brett Davis reports on Washington state government for The Center Square. He previously worked for public policy organizations the Freedom Foundation and Washington Farm Bureau, as well as various community newspapers.