The North Carolina state House passed legislation Wednesday limiting the continuing emergency powers of Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.
The bill was unveiled a year after Cooper first instituted an executive order declaring a state of emergency at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Also known as the Emergency Powers Accountability Act, the proposed legislation passed 69-50 along a party-line vote in the lower chamber, after which it is slated to head to the state Senate for debate.
If passed, the bill would mandate that the governor obtains approval from a majority of the Council of State regarding any statewide emergency declaration that lasts longer than 30 days, according to The Associated Press.
The Council includes 10 senior executive offices of the North Carolina government. As the AP reported:
Without the Council’s “concurrence,” the governor’s declaration would expire within seven days. And emergency declarations could be extended for no more than 30 days without additional concurrence by the council.
State law already requires a governor to run some orders past the Council of State. But courts hearing lawsuits challenging Cooper’s powers in responding to the pandemic have nearly always upheld his ability to act on his own due to the public health dangers.
House Majority Leader John Bell, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said in a Wednesday press release that it “is not about politics — it is about clarifying the law to restore accountability and ensure stronger bipartisan input.”
“The Governor was never intended to have such absolute authority, especially for an unlimited time,” Bell added.
There needs to be a discussion about endless duration of power that's granted to @NC_Governor during a self-declared emergency. This bill isn't about politics—it's about restoring checks/balances. No one should have such unilateral authority, especially for unlimited time. #ncpol pic.twitter.com/S9tsTuh0oj
— Rep. John Bell (@JohnBellNC) March 31, 2021
“North Carolinians deserve confidence that the unprecedented restrictions placed on their families and businesses are the result of bipartisan consensus, not the absolute power of one man,” House Rules Chairman Destin Hall, a Caldwell County Republican, said in a news release after the vote.
Hall noted: “No one person should have such sweeping and unilateral authority to shut down our state.”
Cooper’s rule during the pandemic has been challenged before. In December, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (EBCI), which is a federally recognized sovereign tribal nation in western North Carolina, declined to abide by Cooper’s lockdown order.
Principal Chief Richard Sneed of EBCI said in a statement posted to Facebook at the time:
After considerable research and consideration the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will not be adopting the measures included in the newest Executive Order issued by Governor Roy Cooper. As Principal Chief of the EBCI I have worked with EBCI public health officials to enact social distancing measures that protect our tribal citizens and guests while balancing the financial position of our community. I will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 in our community and will update our community if further measures are warranted.
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