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

Published 11:55 pm Wednesday, October 20, 2021

By Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press

RALEIGH — 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 nearly 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 first ordered by Cooper in March 2020 remains in effect.

“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 of Wayne County, a bill sponsor, said in a news release after the 65-45 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 better outcomes compared to other states.

“The governor must have the authority to respond quickly to emergencies and the record is clear that the actions he has taken during the pandemic have been effective in protecting the health and safety of North Carolinians,” Cooper spokesperson Jordan Monaghan wrote in an email response to the bill’s legislative passage. “The pandemic is not over and we don’t need partisan politics that put people at risk.”

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.

Rep. Michael Wray of Northampton County was the lone Democrat to vote for the measure Wednesday.

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.