Different times present our state with different threats.
In 1962, by a margin of nearly two to one, voters approved an amendment to our state constitution to ensure state and local governments can keep operating during a large disruption caused by enemy attack. Those of us who can remember all the way back to the 1960s know how serious the prospect of nuclear war was during that tense era.
Today, while the threat of nuclear war remains, it’s no longer at the top of our list of worries. In the meantime, while the Cold War has ended, new threats have arisen, especially terrorism. And as our scientific knowledge of the natural world has increased, we have come to recognize the threat posed by the possibility of an earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast.
I grew up between the mouth of the Columbia and Aberdeen, which is the area that faces the greatest risk from an offshore earthquake and tsunami.
For those reasons, I prime sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 8200 in the Legislature this session. This constitutional amendment would ensure continuity of government during a catastrophic incident that results from something other than an enemy attack. That would include a devastating act of terrorism, earthquake, tsunami or volcanic eruption.
Since the constitutional amendment passed the Legislature with a supermajority of votes in both the Washington House of Representatives and Senate (House: 91-7, Senate: 37-11), it will now appear on the ballot this November.
As I mentioned, the current constitutional provision about governmental continuity — Article II, Section 42 — allows certain specified constitutional requirements to be waived in the case of enemy attack so that government can continue to function. These requirements include vacancies in office, locations of government meetings, the numbers required for quorums and to pass bills, and recordkeeping.
Currently, if there were a natural disaster that caused comparable disruption to our state and comparable loss of life among elected officials, it is unclear what the rules would be for the government to continue functioning.
The only change the amendment makes to the current text of Section 42 is to add “catastrophic incidents” to the specified times of emergency. Catastrophic incidents are defined as “extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, and/or government functions.”
In a related action, during this session the Legislature also passed a change to the Continuity of Government Act. If the constitutional amendment is approved, Senate Bill 5012 will allow the Washington Military Department to make the necessary plans and preparations for catastrophic incidents.
This bill passed by a vote of 90-8 in the House and 48-1 in the Senate.
Sen. Dean Takko is a resident of Longview and an Ilwaco native. He chairs the Senate Local Government Committee.