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Law gives Gov. Inslee broad emergency powers

by Charles H. Featherstone
Staff Writer | March 15, 2020 10:19 PM

OLYMPIA — In his Friday proclamation closing schools statewide, Governor Jay Inslee cited several sections of Washington state law that give the governor broad powers to declare and rule in the event of an emergency.

First and foremost, Inslee cited his constitutional position as “commander-in-chief of the military in the state,” which primarily includes the Washington National Guard. However, Inslee also cited Section 38 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), which gives the governor the power to declare martial law and order out the militia, as well as outlines how the state’s emergency management will respond to a “disaster beyond local control.”

Inslee also cited RCW Section 43, which specifically outlines the power of the governor to declare a state of emergency and impose curfews, limit gatherings “on the public streets, parks, or other open areas of this state, either public or private,” limit of restrict the sale of goods that the governor determines “should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace,” or any “other activities as he or she reasonably believes should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace.”

The law also states that anyone “willfully violating any provision of an order issued by the governor under this section is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.”

Under state law, a state of emergency comes into existence when the governor signs a proclamation, and it only ceases to exist when the governor signs another proclamation ending it, provided “order has been restored in the area affected.”