Lawmakers seek long-term limit on governors’ emergency power
As governors loosen long-lasting coronavirus restrictions, state lawmakers across the U.S. are taking actions to significantly limit the power they could wield in future emergencies.
The legislative measures are aimed not simply at undoing mask mandates and capacity limits that have been common during the pandemic. Many proposals seek to fundamentally shift power away from governors and toward lawmakers the next time there is a virus outbreak, terrorist attack or natural disaster.
“The COVID pandemic has been an impetus for a re-examination of balancing of legislative power with executive powers,” said Pam Greenberg, a policy researcher at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Lawmakers in 45 states have proposed more than 300 measures this year related to legislative oversight of executive actions during the COVID-19 pandemic or other emergencies, according to the NCSL.
About half those states are considering significant changes, such as tighter limits on how long governors’ emergency orders can last without legislative approval, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council, an association of conservative lawmakers and businesses. It wrote a model “Emergency Power Limitation Act” for lawmakers to follow.
Though the pushback is coming primarily from Republican lawmakers, it is not entirely partisan.
Republican lawmakers have sought to limit the power of Democratic governors in states such as Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina. But they also have sought to rein in fellow Republican governors in such states as Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana and Ohio. Some Democratic lawmakers also have pushed back against governors of their own party, most notably limiting the ability of embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue new mandates.
When the pandemic hit a year ago, many governors and their top health officials temporarily ordered residents to remain home, limited public gatherings, prohibited in-person schooling and shut down dine-in restaurants, gyms and other businesses. Many governors have been repealing or relaxing restrictions after cases declined from a winter peak and as more people get vaccinated.