When Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency on Feb. 29, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the future was uncertain. Two-and-a-half years later, the path forward is clearer.
The virus and its variants demand continued caution, but Washingtonians, employers and institutions are well-versed in control measures like social distancing, vaccination and masking when advisable. Protecting against contagion has become routine.
Still, Inslee has shared no timeline for relinquishing his emergency powers. State lawmakers punted last session rather than reform the law to set reasonable limits on that extraordinary authority. Inslee should end the state of emergency as soon as is practicable. Lawmakers should fine-tune the law when they reconvene.
If continued measures are warranted, they should be vetted through the legislative process. Washington’s prolonged state of emergency is unusual. Only 13 states still are operating under a state of emergency or other heightened preparedness. Eight of those state’s orders — New York, Delaware, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Illinois, North Carolina and Georgia — are set to expire this month.
Unless renewed, Rhode Island’s emergency declaration will expire on Sept. 2, and Kansas on Jan. 20, 2023. Only Washington, California and West Virginia have not set an end date.
But when asked for a timeline or metrics to determine when the emergency is over, gubernatorial spokesman Mike Faulk offered no specifics. Instead, he wrote in an email, “It’s not so much a standard metric as it is a judgment based on the opinions of the governor’s advisers, agencies and other partners in pandemic response and the governor does his best to settle on the safest way to proceed out of the pandemic.”
He pointed out that only 10 of the governor’s original 85 pandemic-related executive orders are still active. But that misses the point.
A perpetual state of emergency undermines the balance of power between branches of government.
“I think more than anything it’s disrespectful to the other branches of government and the people,” said state Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia.
“I think the government in its normal form can respond to the challenges we still have.”
Expanded executive powers are useful in cases of war, civil unrest, disaster, disease or other extraordinary circumstances, but only until situations are stabilized. We reached that milestone long ago.
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