NC House bill would limit governors’ emergency powers

Governors’ powers to declare long-lasting statewide emergencies without agreement from other elected officials would end under a bill moving through the state House.

The House Judiciary I committee approved a bill that would require governors to get approval from a majority of Council of State members in order for statewide emergency orders to last more than seven days.

Republicans have chafed at Gov. Roy Cooper’s pandemic safety orders in the last year, frequently saying they went too far.

Republicans tried last year to counter Cooper’s orders by passing bills to open bowling alleys, bars, gyms, and other establishments. They did not have enough votes to override Cooper’s vetoes.

Then-Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, the Republican running for governor against Cooper, sued Cooper over the pandemic safety orders. Forest lost in Superior Court and decided not to appeal.

Rep. Keith Kidwell, a Chocowinity Republican and House bill 264’s lead sponsor said Tuesday the proposal was not about politics, but is meant to update laws on emergency powers.

“When we find something that is not working appropriately, we’re going to turn around and say ‘is there something that needs to be done differently?’” Kidwell said.

But views expressed in committee seemed to fall along party lines.

Rep. Rosa Gill, a Raleigh Democrat, said the bill is not needed.

“All the executive orders I’m aware of have been appropriate,” Gill said.” Why is it necessary for the Council of State to either validate or not validate the executive order?”

Rep. Sarah Stevens, a Mt. Airy Republican, said one person shouldn’t be able to control the entire state for a year.

Constituents have said some of Cooper’s orders seemed hypocritical and random, Stevens said.

The Council of State includes the Lt. Governor, the state Auditor, Treasurer, the commissioners of Insurance, Agriculture ,and Labor, the state Superintendent of Schools, the Secretary of State, and the state Attorney General. The Governor is the council chairman.

One speaker who was not identified by name said that people voting for Council of State candidates won’t know they’d be getting so much power.

North Carolina handled the health emergency better than other states, she said. 

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