Editorials

Emergency clause overused

Even Gov. Chris Gregoire admits that lawmakers went overboard with their use of "emergency" clauses this year. An "emergency clause" added to the bottom of a bill puts that law onto the books immediately, depriving the public of their right to reject the new law.

Gregoire vetoed 10 of the offensive clauses, but many other bills carrying her signature went immediately into law, robbing members of the public of their right to referendum.

A referendum is the public's only means of challenging a new law. If sufficient signatures can be collected, similar to an initiative, the proposed law is put to a public vote. It's the citizens only means of countering actions of the Legislature.

When lawmakers tack an "emergency clause" onto the bottom of a bill, the measure is considered law immediately upon signature by the governor. It eliminates the opportunity to collect referendum signatures. It's a lawmaker's way of ensuring his or her legislation goes unchallenged.

In her first veto of the 2007 legislative session, the governor vetoed an emergency clause on a bill adding porphyria to the list of disabilities for special parking privileges.

The governor said, "An emergency clause is used when immediate enactment of a bill is necessary to preserve the public peace, health or safety or when it is necessary for the support of state government. It should be used sparingly because its application has the effect of limiting citizens' right to referendum."

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a conservative research group in Olympia, analyzed the 524 bills passed in the 2007 session and found that 73 of them contained emergency clauses.

Is the public to believe, then, that 14 percent of all the bills passed this year constituted an emergency? That's ludicrous.

The authors of the EFF study ridiculed emergency clauses on bills dealing with horseracing broadcasts, on cross-breeding of canola seeds and the renaming of the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation.

It's no coincidence, either, that lawmakers used the emergency clause to take away the peoples' right of referendum on some of the most controversial bills of the 2007 legislative session: eliminating gain sharing for public employees, use of agency shop fees, paid family leave, delaying math and science WASL requirements, etc. Gregoire vetoed the emergency clause on the WASL legislation - one of her 10 emergency clause vetoes.

Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, tried to curb the abuse through an amendment requiring a supermajority vote for all non-budget bills with an emergency clause. Not surprisingly, her effort went nowhere.

The Legislature's overuse of the emergency clause should incense the public because it takes away their right to reject laws adopted by the Legislature. Where's the outrage?

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