Rep. Bell: No one should have unilateral power to shut down NC — regardless of party
News & Observer
By Rep. John R. Bell, IV Link
Last week, marked an entire year since Governor Roy Cooper unilaterally put the state of North Carolina and its citizens under a state-wide emergency executive order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, he has exercised absolute authority to shut down businesses, close schools and dictate where and when people can gather – all without following statutory mandates to consult with the Council of State.
In fact, the governor had previously asked for Council of State approval for his first shut down order in March 2020, but then switched legal theories when some Council of State members raised questions.
This is not how a constitutional republic works. Our current emergency management laws were simply not intended for a state-wide, year-long state-of-emergency.
In response, I have joined with Representatives Keith Kidwell, Destin Hall and Tim Moffitt in introducing the Emergency Powers Accountability Act (House Bill 264) to strengthen and clarify current law by requiring approval from a majority of the Council of State for emergency actions taken by the governor.
Specifically, our bill will require the governor to seek the concurrence of the Council of State when issuing a state-wide declaration of emergency beyond thirty days. For this purpose, state-wide would mean an emergency area of sixty-seven or more counties.
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. We can all agree that COVID-19 requires emergency action. But it is clear we need to clarify the law to account for today’s challenges to help ensure more bipartisan input over such consequential decisions.
The Council of State consists of ten state-wide elected executive offices established by the state constitution – the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor, N.C. treasurer, superintendent of public instruction, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture, commissioner of labor, and commissioner of insurance.
We are unique to have the Council of State in North Carolina, and it simply makes sense that we utilize these experienced and knowledgeable leaders during a state-wide crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Simply put, no one person should have the unilateral authority to shut down schools, businesses, and entire livelihoods — especially for over an entire year.
These concerns are also not unique to North Carolina or to one party.
We are seeing efforts underway across the country – including in New York and in Texas – to rein in executive overreach and bring more accountability over emergency powers.
The Emergency Powers Accountability Act is common sense step that will produce stronger oversight and greater transparency during prolonged times of crisis. At the end of the day, no one thought we would be in a situation where the entire state would be under a state-of-emergency for over an entire year.
Our goal with this legislation is to simply clarify the law to reflect today’s challenges and encourage more bipartisan consensus — regardless of who is governor.
Rep. John R. Bell, IV is the North Carolina House Majority Leader. He represents House District 10, which includes Greene, Johnston, and Wayne counties.