State of Emergency: Washington's Use of Emergency Clauses and the People's Right to Referendum

Bryan L. Page


Importing a simulcast race of regional or national interest on horse race days; exempting a horse racing license from public inspection; farmland preservation; metropolitan park districts; resolving manufactured/mobile home landlord and tenant disputes; and hosting the national conference of lieutenant governors are just a few subjects of recent legislation in which the Washington Legislature included an emergency clause after deciding prompt action was needed. While prompt legislative action to problems is desirable, in Washington the inclusion of emergency clauses in bills comes at a price to democracy. A bill that is emergent, as defined in the Washington Constitution, is exempt from the people's power of referendum. Since the adoption of the referendum in Washington, conflict has existed between the legislature's desire for bills to take effect immediately and the people's power of referendum.

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