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State Lawmakers Try to Curb Governors’ Coronavirus Powers

All but a handful have been written by Republicans, many of whom have regarded restrictions from the start as bad for business and infringements on personal freedom. If that suggests that the issue of emergency power is partisan, however, that’s not entirely true: Legislation takes aim at the powers wielded by governors of both parties.

A list of bills by the National Conference of State Legislators shows that the gamut of the proposals is both broad and inventive. An Arkansas state senator wanted fines for violating coronavirus restrictions refunded to violators. Lawmakers in six states, including Georgia and Oregon want to stop governors from imposing limits on attendance at church services. A measure in Maine would circumvent restrictions on businesses by declaring all businesses to be essential in any emergency.

Most proposals, however, are more straightforward attempts to give lawmakers a say, often by limiting the duration of emergency declarations and requiring legislative approval to extend them. The nonpartisan Uniform Law Commission is reviewing state emergency statutes to see if they need updating in light of the coronavirus crisis. But the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative pro-business group that has spent years cultivating ties with state legislators, has beaten them to the punch, circulating a so-called model law that is the basis for many state proposals.

Some experts call that a mistake. “The time for legislatures to address emergency declarations isn’t in the middle an emergency, but before or after one,” said Jill Krueger, the director of the northern region of the Network for Public Health Law, in Edina, Minn.

Indeed, practically every state has at least one measure targeting a governor in a legislative committee or in the lawbooks.


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