Testimony Before the Washington Senate Committee on State Government and Elections regarding legislative and executive authority in a state of emergency

Published February 2, 2022

Chairman Hunt and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for holding a hearing on Senate Bill 5909, legislation that reforms Georgia’s emergency declaration and preparedness statutes. 

My name is Samantha Fillmore, and I am a State Government Relations Manager at The Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute is a 38-year-old independent, national, nonprofit organization whose mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. Heartland is headquartered in Illinois and focuses on providing national, state, and local elected officials with reliable and timely research and analysis on important policy issues.

Some states have had tremendous success in managing the government response to the pandemic while others’ responses have been haphazard and seemingly without rhyme or reason. Yet in nearly all cases, the governors have acted with little to no input from the legislative branch and as the elected representatives from your communities, you have an obligation to be involved in those decisions, to be fully aware of the processes and rules being instituted, and to be engaged while the public and the economy remains unsettled.

As you approach the two-year anniversary of Washington’s COVID-19 state of emergency, allowing the legislative branch of Washington oversight of the process of emergency proclamations finally affords constituents a voice pertaining to mandates that deeply affect their lives. After all, elected senators and representatives are how citizens make their voices heard and concerns known. Excluding the legislature is no different from excluding citizens.

The concept SB 5909 was created under isn’t complicated: it restores the authority of the legislature as a co-equal branch of government. It is as it was designed to be.

Throughout 2020, The Heartland Institute developed a set of principles that legislators could reference when governors began abusing their newfound powers. The decision by Pennsylvania voters to rein in Gov. Wolf’s executive emergency powers is in line with Heartland’s principles, which include:

  1. Resolutions to immediately nullify an emergency proclamation.
  2. Time duration of an emergency order (renewed by legislature).
  3. Pass a resolution that requires the governor to call a special session to approve of an emergency proclamation if the legislature is out of session.
  4. Permit an interim committee, or group of legislative leaders, to extend or reject emergency proclamations.
  5. Impose specific limits to executive authority during an emergency proclamation. (i.e., restrict the governor from unilaterally closing businesses, closing houses of worship, etc.)

There has been a clear appetite among state lawmakers to reassert themselves into the debate and processes over public health and other states of emergency. Co-equal governance is a bedrock American principle and Washington has an opportunity to set an example to the tens of states that are also looking at reining in executive authority.

As has been seen all over the country – from New Hampshire to Ohio to New Mexico to California – the frustration with governors run amok is a purple problem and not exclusive to solely blue states or solely red states. This bill lays out a clear direction for the full restoration of co-equal governance and only politics will be what prevents ideas like this from moving forward.

Thank you for your time and consideration on this important issue.

For more information about The Heartland Institute’s work, please visit our websites at www.heartland.org or http:/news.heartland.org, or call Samantha Fillmore at 312/377-4000. You can reach Samantha Fillmore by email at [email protected].