The Oregon legislature is attempting to take a significant swing at emergency powers granted to their governor and any future governors with Senate Bill 640. If passed, SB 640 would create stipulations on future states of emergency in the Beaver state.
HB 640 safeguards citizens from gubernatorial overreach by stating that an executive order terminates 31 days after the state of emergency is first declared unless extended. Such extensions can only be granted by the Legislative Assembly passing a joint resolution to extend a state of emergency or authorize the Governor to extend a state of emergency beyond 31 days. However, this can only occur if the joint resolution specifies the duration of the extension. There is no limit to the number of extensions that may be made or authorized.
However, a governor may also terminate a state of emergency, but only before the state of emergency terminates on the 31st day. After the state of emergency terminates, the Governor may not declare another state of emergency for the same purpose unless authorized by a joint resolution of the Legislative Assembly. These stipulations would also apply to any public health emergencies declared.
During the pandemic, many Americans saw their respective governors wield unprecedented power with seemingly unlimited emergency declarations. This overnight shift in governance, coupled with a plethora of governors who abused their pandemic emergency powers, has left several states reevaluating constitutional statutes pertaining to emergency provisions and powers granted to the governor during a state of emergency. With SB 640, Oregon is no exception.
This change to the current Oregon statute is paramount to prohibit Gov. Tina Kotek (D) and future governors from excessively extending state of emergency powers long past the point of necessity, as seen time and time again across the country throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Simply put, SB 640 creates commonsense restrictions and limitations on gubernatorial powers. Most importantly, it reintegrates the legislature into governance processes during states of emergency. It aligns with many of the principles developed by The Heartland Institute during the pandemic, which legislators can reference upon any gubernatorial abuses of power.
Some of these ideas and principles include:
- The ability to immediately nullify an emergency proclamation via resolution.
- The creation of time limitations for an emergency order, renewable by the legislature.
- The ability to pass a resolution that requires the governor to call a special session to approve of an emergency proclamation if the legislature is out of session.
- Permitting an interim committee or group of legislative leaders to extend or reject emergency proclamations.
- The imposition of specific limits to executive authority during an emergency proclamation (i.e., restrict the governor from unilaterally closing businesses, closing houses of worship, or shutting down freedom of the press, and the right to bear arms).
There is a clear appetite among lawmakers and constituents to restrict gubernatorial overreach, especially after the coronavirus pandemic. Via this legislation, Oregon lawmakers can catch up to their peers in other states who have already taken measures to rein in executive authority.
Co-equal governance, checks and balances, and the decentralization of power are bedrock principles of American democracy. Yet, these fundamental principles have been AWOL in many states since the pandemic.
Fortunately, lawmakers in the Beaver State are beginning to stand up to gubernatorial overreach by reasserting their rightful place as a much-needed check against the executive branch.
The following documents provide more information about executive authority in a state of emergency.
Testimony Before The Georgia House Committee on Judiciary, Scoggins Subcommittee, On House Bill 358, Restoring The State Legislature’s Role In Emergency Management
Testimony Before the Georgia House Judiciary Committee regarding legislative and executive authority in a state of emergency.
Andrew Cuomo Is Just a Governor, Not a God
Cuomo has issued multiple statements in an attempt to quell the backlash and frustration of New Yorkers and lawmakers in Albany to no avail.
Governors, Not Gods – A Heartland Institute Webinar
The Heartland Institute hosted a webinar on Aug. 27, 2020 for state legislators to discuss how they can rein in governors, who wield seemingly unlimited powers in the wake of COVID-19. For many months, Americans have been abhorred by out-of-control governors who have imposed draconian lockdowns, which have decimated small businesses and people’s livelihoods. For instance, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been roundly criticized for his heavy-handed and ineffectual response to the coronavirus outbreak in New York, which has drawn substantial blowback. Cuomo has also attempted to coverup his disastrous policy of forcing elderly patients with COVID-19 to return to nursing homes, where they spread the deadly disease like wildfire among New York’s most vulnerable. As the days grow shorter and the temperatures dip lower, now is the time to begin exploring oversight over dictatorial governors and restore power where it rightfully belongs: With we the people, not I the governor.
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.
The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Heartland’s Government Relations department, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.