The last month and a half have been especially stressful and challenging for many of us due to COVID-19. The resulting government restrictions are causing lasting damage to the businesses that define our communities and main streets.
I wanted to take this opportunity to connect with you, share what I know, and let you know where I stand on resolving this situation.
I have been participating in virtual meetings regularly with House colleagues, the House Education Committee, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Governor’s office, state emergency management, and others. I’d like to discuss gubernatorial authority, legislative oversight, the current budget status, and next steps.
The governor’s emergency power to prohibit specific activity was established in 1969 under RCW 43.06.220, section 1. The current stay-home order, including prohibitions on commerce, gathering, and other activities is asserted under section 1. The stay-home order did not require legislative approval, it is not limited to 30 days, and does not require legislative approval to extend.
Section 2, however, provides the governor authority to suspend “statutory obligations or limitations” and does require legislative approval past 30 days.
For purposes of Section 2, Legislative approval means bipartisan consent by a majority of the following leaders: majority and minority leaders of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, and the House minority leader (two Republicans and two Democrats).
Many of the Section 2 orders are likely to be extended, including such items as waiving the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance, waiving penalties and interest on certain late tax payments, waiving deadlines for driver license renewal, and others.
Some of the Section 2 suspensions are not in the best interest of our residents, and I would not support extending — such as limiting access to public records, or delaying access to the justice.
As the assistant ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, I am gravely concerned for our economic health. At a state level, I expect budget reserves to be depleted and painful budget cuts to follow.
In the private sector, federal aid has helped sustain many job providers, but many will not survive to re-employ workers once restrictions are lifted. Data shows restart of commerce takes time. The lasting financial burden due to unsold seasonal merchandise, missed busy seasons, and repayment of emergency loans add to the challenge of remaining in business and operating at pre-COVID levels.
I am also concerned for areas of the supply chain – crops that are not planted, livestock that are euthanized, and what that means for prices in the months to follow.
The threat to human health from COVID-19 warranted quick action by the governor, and I commend his broad shutdown approach as an initial step.
However, that action should have been followed by establishment of safety protocols and the opportunity for businesses to develop compliance plans for safe operation.
Human health must remain paramount while safely reopening our state’s economy. Government-imposed economic restrictions have human cost, including poverty, depression, suicide, depleted retirement savings, and destroyed livelihoods.
It is past time for the governor to engage the Legislature in a meaningful way to develop bipartisan solutions that allow much more economic activity while prioritizing human health.