Republicans Try to Limit Governor’s Pandemic Emergency Powers

Gov. Ralph Northam speaks during a news conference in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

By Arianna Coghill
August 3, 2020

Their bills come as COVID cases spike in regions of Virginia.

Gov. Ralph Northam has issued over 20 executive orders to prevent the further spread of coronavirus in the state since the global health crisis began in March. Now some Republican members of the General Assembly have introduced proposals to weaken the governor’s power, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. 

Sen. Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg) has filed SB 5001, which would limit an executive order to last for 30 days until the General Assembly chooses to take action. If no action is taken, the governor can issue the same order for another 30 days. However, the governor couldn’t issue the same executive order again after the 60 days are up.

Newman believes that this bill would encourage the governor to call back the legislature to assist in making decisions for the state sooner than the special session scheduled for mid-August.

“The legislature should be doing more, and it would be empowering to the people,” Newman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Democracy is a good thing. I know that a dictatorship is very efficient, but that’s not the way free people should be governed.”

Del. Tony Wilt (R-Rockingham) has also filed a proposal to amend the Virginia constitution. Under Wilt’s amendment, an executive order issued during a state of emergency would expire after 45 days. Afterwards, the governor could call the General Assembly in for a special order to approve an extension of the executive order. 

Northam’s administration opposes the bills. Spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said that under the proposal many of the orders would’ve expired, “leaving 8.5 million Virginians without a leader during a world wide health crisis.” 

Recently, Northam placed an emergency order tightening and extending restrictions in the Tidewater region due to the massive spike in cases. On August 2, Hampton Roads made up over half of the state’s total increase in cases with 423 of the 982 cases reported by the Virginia Department of Health. 

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