North Carolina bill to limit governor's emergency powers passes legislature

A North Carolina bill that aims to limit the governor’s emergency powers during extended emergencies is headed to Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) desk after the state House gave the legislation final approval on Wednesday.

The North Carolina House approved the Emergency Powers Accountability Act in a 66-44 vote, largely along party lines, sending it to Cooper’s desk for approval.

The bill, if signed into law by Cooper, would require the governor to get approval from the Council of State before making emergency declarations that will last more than seven days.

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The Council of State is a bipartisan group, established by the North Carolina Constitution, that is made up of 10 state-elected executive offices. The lieutenant governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and secretary of state all sit on the council, according to a statement from the North Carolina House Republicans.

The bill also calls for requiring legislative approval for emergency declarations to be extended beyond 45 days.

Additionally, if signed into law, the legislation would require that the governor receive formal support from the Council of State if the North Carolina health director is looking to issue quarantine and isolation orders for individuals that would last more than seven days, according to The Associated Press.

State Rep. Keith Kidwell (R) said the legislation is needed to reinstate “much needed checks and balances” over the governor’s authority in the state.

“The legislature must address the endless duration of power that has been granted to the Governor during a self-declared and boundless state of emergency,” Kidwell said in a statement.

“Simply put, there is no unilateral rule in a constitutional republic. This legislation reinstates much needed checks and balances over the Governor’s unlimited emergency powers,” he added.

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The Hill reached out to Cooper for comment.

The legislation was first introduced in March by GOP members of the North Carolina House who sought to “strengthen and clarify current law to require approval from a majority of the Council of State for emergency actions taken by the Governor.”

They unveiled the bill on the one-year anniversary of Cooper’s executive order that declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency declaration is still in effect in the state, according to the AP.

That declaration — along with subsequent stay-at-home orders and restrictions on businesses and activities — became the target of criticism from Republicans in the state, who argued that Cooper does not have absolute power in North Carolina during the pandemic.

Cooper, however, has contended that the governor does not need approval from a council if he decides that local governments are not able to react effectively, according to the AP.

“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,” Jordan Monaghan, Cooper’s spokesperson, told the AP in an email after the bill passed.

“The pandemic is not over and we don’t need partisan politics that put people at risk,” he added.

Additionally, North Carolina Democrats have argued that the governor’s handling of the pandemic has helped the state see better outcomes compared to other areas, according to the AP.

A number of states have made efforts to rein in the power of governors during emergency situations.

According to data cited by Pew in June from the National Conference of State Legislatures, a group that advises state legislatures, more than 300 bills have been filed in 47 states.