The Tennessee legislature is attempting to take a significant swing at gubernatorial emergency powers with Senate Bill 590, the Senate companion legislation to House Bill 422. If passed, SB 590 would ensure that a state of emergency issued by the governor cannot last longer than 45 days.
SB 590 and HB 422 safeguard Tennessee citizens from gubernatorial overreach by stating that an executive order or proclamation expires not later than 45 days after its initial issuance. Upon the expiration, the emergency proclamation may only be renewed or extended by the passage of a joint resolution by the general assembly in a regular or extraordinary session.
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 590, Tennessee is no exception.
This change to the current Tennessee statute is paramount to prohibit Gov. Bill Lee (R) 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 590 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, Tennessee 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 Volunteer 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