In wake of pandemic lockdowns. state lawmakers look to limit governors' emergency powers

FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 file photo, people protest outside the Statehouse in Concord, N.H., as Gov. Chris Sununu is inaugurated at noon for his third term as governor. A measure that recently passed New Hampshire's Republican-led House would
FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 file photo, people protest outside the Statehouse in Concord, N.H., as Gov. Chris Sununu is inaugurated at noon for his third term as governor. A measure that recently passed New Hampshire's Republican-led House would

Many U.S. governors have been making COVID rules without legislative approval.

Posted: Apr 10, 2021 12:44 PM

(ASSOCIATED PRESS) - 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.

But the potential remains in many states for governors to again tighten restrictions if new variants of the coronavirus lead to another surge in cases.

Governors have been acting under the authority of emergency response laws that in some states date back decades and weren't crafted with an indefinite health crisis in mind.

“A previous legislature back in the ’60s, fearing a nuclear holocaust, granted tremendous powers” to the governor, said Idaho state Rep. Jason Monks, a Republican and the chamber's assistant majority leader.

“This was the first time I think that those laws were really stress-tested,” he said.

Like many governors, Idaho Gov. Brad Little has repeatedly extended his monthlong emergency order since originally issuing it last spring. A pair of bills nearing final approval would prohibit him from declaring an emergency for more than 60 days without legislative approval. The Republican governor also would be barred from suspending constitutional rights, restricting the ability of people to work, or altering state laws like he did by suspending in-person voting and holding a mail-only primary election last year.

A measure that recently passed New Hampshire's Republican-led House also would prohibit governors from indefinitely renewing emergency declarations, as GOP Gov. Chris Sununu has done every 21 days for the past year. It would halt emergency orders after 30 days unless renewed by lawmakers.

Next month, Pennsylvania voters will decide a pair of constitutional amendments to limit disaster emergency declarations to three weeks, rather than three months, and require legislative approval to extend them. The Republican-led Legislature placed the measures on the ballot after repeatedly failing to reverse the policies Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf implemented to try to contain the pandemic.

In Indiana, the Republican-led Legislature and GOP governor are embroiled in a power struggle over executive powers.

The Legislature approved a bill this past week that would give lawmakers greater authority to intervene in gubernatorially declared emergencies by calling themselves into special session. The House Republican leader said the bill was not “anti-governor” but a response to a generational crisis.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has issued more than 60 executive orders during the pandemic, vetoed the bill Friday. He contends the legislature's attempt to expand its power could violate the state Constitution. Legislative leaders said they intend to override the veto, potentially setting up a legal clash between the legislative and executive branches. Unlike Congress and most states, Indiana lawmakers can override a veto with a simple majority of both houses.

Several other governors also have vetoed bills limiting their emergency authority or increasing legislative powers.

In Michigan, where new variants are fueling a rise in COVID-19 cases, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed GOP-backed legislation last month that would have ended state health department orders after 28 days unless lengthened by lawmakers.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, contended that legislation allowing lawmakers to rescind his public health orders "jeopardizes the safety of every Ohioan.” But the Republican-led Legislature overrode his veto the next day.

“It’s time for us to stand up for the legislative branch," sponsoring Sen. Rob McColley told his colleagues.

Kentucky's GOP-led Legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's vetoes of bills limiting his emergency powers, but a judge temporarily blocked the laws from taking effect. The judge said they are “likely to undermine, or even cripple, the effectiveness of public health measures.”

In some states, governors have worked with lawmakers to pare back executive powers.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, signed a law last month giving the GOP-led Legislature greater say in determining whether to end his emergency orders. It was quickly put to the test by the Arkansas Legislative Council, which decided to let Hutchinson extend his emergency declaration another two months.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, also enacted a law last month giving legislative leaders power to revoke her emergency orders. Top Republican lawmakers immediately used it to scuttle a Kelly order meant to encourage counties to keep mask mandates in place.

“The power of the executive has been emasculated when it comes to the Emergency Management Act,” Democratic state Rep. John Carmichael said. “That may have very dire consequences in other circumstances and other disasters.”

Kelly said it will be harder to persuade people to keep wearing masks without state or local mandates. She said her orders had relieved pressure on local leaders and businesses.

"Let me be the bad guy. Let me be the one who mandates so that they don’t have to make those kinds of decisions,” Kelly said.

Republican lawmakers insisted that their push to curb the governor’s power is not partisan. Lawmakers said they didn’t understand how broad the governor’s power was until she started issuing orders last spring to close K-12 schools, limit indoor worship services and regulate how businesses could reopen.

House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch said he believes the changes in Kansas’ emergency management law will encourage future governors to “use that power sparingly” and collaborate with lawmakers.

“Our system is set up not to give one person of any party too much power over the lives of Kansans," he said. “We’re supposed to have checks and balances.”

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 758252

Reported Deaths: 8560
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1517551909
Ramsey62763976
Dakota56337523
Anoka53221514
Washington33236329
Stearns28036252
St. Louis23286353
Scott21359159
Wright20944170
Olmsted17894118
Sherburne15291114
Carver1342954
Clay1011798
Rice9886131
Blue Earth953059
Crow Wing9298105
Kandiyohi822796
Chisago820862
Otter Tail7868104
Benton7393109
Beltrami637177
Mower635340
Douglas618089
Goodhue608584
Winona605253
Itasca602380
McLeod583468
Steele574525
Isanti560073
Morrison546065
Becker521062
Polk503477
Freeborn482642
Nobles477952
Lyon447556
Carlton440966
Nicollet426451
Pine421130
Cass415942
Mille Lacs406765
Brown400947
Todd391836
Le Sueur380431
Meeker351552
Waseca323730
Martin318534
Wabasha28655
Hubbard284544
Dodge26939
Roseau260325
Fillmore238212
Redwood235643
Wadena231429
Houston229117
Renville225149
Faribault215730
Pennington213727
Sibley205112
Cottonwood194027
Kanabec187630
Chippewa186940
Aitkin179242
Watonwan169311
Pope15378
Rock153719
Yellow Medicine151720
Jackson144814
Koochiching137519
Clearwater133718
Swift132819
Marshall132319
Pipestone131927
Murray131510
Stevens122811
Lake106521
Wilkin100814
Lac qui Parle95724
Mahnomen87412
Norman8519
Big Stone7894
Grant7689
Lincoln7575
Kittson59922
Red Lake5789
Unassigned541124
Traverse5035
Lake of the Woods4574
Cook2430

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 467281

Reported Deaths: 6685
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk73698716
Linn28680379
Scott24441271
Black Hawk20130355
Woodbury18854242
Johnson17800100
Dubuque15577228
Pottawattamie14073197
Dallas13894107
Story1275148
Warren763496
Webster6876111
Cerro Gordo6816107
Clinton6814100
Des Moines657893
Marshall635484
Muscatine6294113
Wapello5807136
Jasper571478
Lee560787
Sioux560276
Marion499791
Buena Vista489745
Plymouth459187
Henry378647
Jones365160
Washington362255
Bremer353867
Benton352056
Boone344837
Carroll341753
Crawford337345
Mahaska313656
Dickinson297651
Clay274631
Buchanan274239
Jackson270445
Kossuth269373
Hardin266448
Tama261476
Fayette253848
Delaware253444
Cedar246326
Page244827
Wright240945
Winneshiek230837
Hamilton228553
Floyd216744
Harrison215277
Madison214325
Clayton210058
Poweshiek206840
Iowa204229
Butler203237
Jefferson197340
Mills197227
Allamakee192952
Cherokee191943
Lyon190641
Cass190557
Winnebago185432
Hancock184739
Calhoun184115
Appanoose175950
Shelby174239
Louisa169651
Grundy167937
Emmet163842
Franklin163328
Humboldt161826
Mitchell161843
Union159437
Chickasaw156418
Sac156323
Guthrie154034
Palo Alto140831
Clarke140028
Montgomery138941
Keokuk137534
Monroe131534
Howard125422
Ida116641
Davis113825
Greene113712
Lucas112224
Pocahontas109323
Monona107436
Worth10678
Adair103634
Osceola91117
Fremont83711
Van Buren82721
Decatur81212
Taylor78612
Wayne72024
Ringgold66827
Audubon64514
Adams4984
Unassigned150
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