GOP bill on NC governor’s emergency powers heads to his desk

North Carolina

(WNCN photo)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Another effort by North Carolina Republicans to check the governor’s broad powers during a pandemic or other emergency cleared the General Assembly on Wednesday. As with a similar measure last year, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto is likely.

The House accepted on a party-line vote the Senate’s version of legislation that would require Cooper and future governors to get specific support from other statewide elected leaders and ultimately the legislature to secure a long-term emergency declaration.

GOP lawmakers and many constituents have criticized Cooper’s extended coronavirus emergency declarations and restrictions on businesses and face-covering mandates since last year. Often he’s acted without the “concurrence” of the Council of State. A COVID-19 state of emergency ordered by Cooper in early 2020 remains in effect — almost 600 days ago, House Speaker Tim Moore said.

“No one person, regardless of party, should have the unilateral authority to shut down the state for an indefinite amount of time,” House Majority Leader John Bell, a bill sponsor, said in a news release after the 66-44 vote. “This legislation is not about politics or what the governor has or has not done. It is about clarifying the law to restore checks and balances.”

Cooper has said he does not need such approval when he determines local governments are unable to respond effectively, and courts have almost always backed him up when sued during the first months of the 2020 pandemic. Fellow Democrats have said Cooper’s handling of the pandemic has resulted in improved health and economic conditions compared to other states.

Cooper spokesperson Jordan Monaghan said recently that the governor’s emergency authority “enabled North Carolina to weather this pandemic” better than other states, and that the bill was a distraction from other legislative action.

Under the legislation, a declared gubernatorial statewide emergency could last only seven days unless a majority of the council agrees with the governor. The council is defined in the bill as the nine other elected executive branch leaders, including the lieutenant governor and attorney general. The vote tally would have to be made public.

With the council’s concurrence, the governor could extend that emergency order for up to 45 days. The legislature then would have to pass a law to lengthen then it beyond such a time period.

The bill also demands that a governor obtain formal Council of State support when the state health director wants to issue quarantine and isolation orders for groups of people that last longer than seven days.

Cooper’s Democratic allies say the legislature already has the power to supersede a governor’s executive orders with a law and can override a veto.

Cooper vetoed several measures last year that reined in his power or overturned his COVID-19 decisions, including a bill that would have demanded more Council of State involvement.

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