State Sen. Barbara Bailey is pushing a constitutional amendment that she says will help protect voters’ right to challenge lawmakers’ decisions through referendum petitions.
The Republican from Oak Harbor has been trying since 2009 to curb the use of emergency clauses —special language that enables a law to be immediately passed when the governor signs it — with no success.
Bailey argues that emergency clauses take away voters’ opportunity to challenge laws by gathering signatures and submitting referendum petitions. That’s because an emergency clause eliminates the 90-day waiting period before a law goes into effect.
While Bailey’s past proposals to address emergency clauses failed to receive hearings in the state House of Representatives, this year her idea has gained a little more traction. Bailey’s proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 8206, had a hearing today before the Senate Governmental Operations Committee.
The resolution would amend the state constitution to prevent emergency clauses from automatically being included in proposed legislation. Under Bailey’s proposal, an emergency clause would have to be voted on separately as an amendment to a bill.
Furthermore, any emergency clause amendment would have to pass each chamber of the legislature with 60 percent of the vote, rather than by a simple majority.
“Anytime we are eliminating the voice of the people, and that’s what the emergency clause does, it does need to have a closer look as to why we would want to do that,” Bailey testified before the committee today. “I think eliminating the voice of the people for referendum is very serious.”
State Sen. Pam Roach, an Auburn Republican who chairs the Senate Governmental Operations Committee, said that she agrees that emergency clauses can prevent citizens from exercising their constitutional right to challenge legislative decisions. Successful referendum petitions can overturn laws that have been passed by the Legislature by sending them back to voters for approval.
When an emergency clause is invoked, “there is no time for the people to have a referendum on the bill if they want to,” Roach said.
“I agree with the concept of the bill, we shouldn’t have every little thing be an emergency,” Roach said.
Still, Roach questioned whether requiring a 60 percent vote to add an emergency clause to a bill would be “something that deprives the will of the majority.”
Should Bailey’s proposed amendment move forward, it would not apply to appropriations bills, which implement the state budget and fund transportation and capital improvements.