A perpetual state of emergency: NC governor’s unilateral power must be limited
North Carolina has now been under Gov. Roy Cooper’s unilateral statewide state of emergency for over 33% of his entire tenure in office – or nearly 600 days. The current order was impressed upon the citizens of North Carolina on March 10, 2020, without following statutory mandates to consult with the Council of State.
In fact, Cooper had previously asked for the council’s approval for his first shut down order, but then switched legal theories when some Council of State members raised questions.
Regardless of party affiliation, no single person should have the power or authority to shut down the entire state for an indefinite amount of time. Simply put, there is no unilateral rule in a constitutional republic.
Our current emergency management laws in North Carolina were not intended for an endless state of emergency – and must be updated to reflect the realities of today’s challenges.
Currently, North Carolina is one of only 15 states that does not have a time limit on a governor’s state of emergency declaration. Additionally, we are one of six states where a declaration issued by the governor can only be terminated by the governor.
This needs to change. With power consolidated to one individual, there is a lack of accountability and transparency.
For example, when Rep. Keith Kidwell and I sent a letter to the governor on May 6th, 2021, requesting what specific “metrics and data” would need to be met for his state of emergency to end, we never received a response.
Clearly, there needs to be stronger checks and balances in place to ensure greater transparency and accountability. North Carolinians have worked hard to follow the governor’s guidelines throughout the pandemic, and they deserve more information and transparency in this process.
In addition, lawmakers deserve answers and open communication from the governor during emergencies. Polling shows an overwhelming majority of North Carolinians agree and believe that a more collaborative process should be in place for emergency actions.
It is evident that the endless duration of power that is granted to the governor during a self-declared state of emergency needs to be limited and addressed.
That’s why the General Assembly recently approved House Bill 264, the Emergency Powers Accountability Act, which strengthens and clarifies current emergency management laws to restore checks and balances over the governor’s executive powers during an extended emergency.
Specifically, the legislation requires the governor to get concurrence from the council for an emergency declaration lasting more than seven days – and legislative approval for it to extend beyond 45 days.
It does not matter who is governor of North Carolina. Republican or Democrat. The governor was never intended to have such absolute authority, especially for an unlimited time.
Our neighboring states to the north and south, each led by different parties, have ended their state of emergencies, yet North Carolina’s continues.
While it is expected the governor will veto this bill, the legislature still has a duty to act and protect the people of North Carolina from future overreach. Furthermore, the voters deserve to see where their elected officials stand on this critical issue.
Rep. John Bell is the majority leader of the North Carolina House of Representatives and currently represents District 10, which includes parts of Greene, Johnston, and Wayne Counties.