North Carolina Senate approves bill limiting governor's emergency response power
The Senate voted 28-21 on Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 346, which would require the Council of State to approve a governor's emergency declaration within 10 days.
"No single person should have unchecked authority to wield emergency powers for an indefinite period of time. It's inconsistent with the basic idea of a representative democracy," said Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, one of the bill's sponsors.
North Carolina is one of 15 states with no time limit on a governor's state of emergency declaration, according to the Maine Policy Institute. The North Carolina Legislature and the governor have the power to declare an emergency, Maine Policy Institute's Emergency Powers Scorecard shows, and the declaration can be terminated only by the authority who made it.
SB 346 is the second bill that has advanced in the General Assembly this legislative session aimed at limiting the governor's ability to make decisions alone during a state emergency.
The House has approved House Bill 264, which requires the governor to seek the Council of State's concurrence when issuing a statewide declaration of emergency for 67 or more North Carolina counties for more than 30 days.
The governor is part of the Council of State, along with the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer, state auditor, commissioner of labor, commissioner of agriculture, insurance commissioner and superintendent of public instruction.
Under SB 346, if the Council of State disagrees with the governor, the emergency declaration expires. If the panel approves the declaration, it may continue for up to 45 days. The Legislature then would have to approve the emergency declaration by a majority vote for it to be extended beyond 45 days, or else it would expire.
Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, said Tuesday the bill will block the governor's ability to respond in an emergency.
"This bill would slow things down. It would add administrative red tape, and it would make us inefficient in our response to emergencies," Marcus said. "It would introduce a political tug-of-war about every emergency decision that the governor makes or any future governor makes. It's not what the constitution envisions in its grant of powers provisions."
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper's Republican opponent in last November's gubernatorial election, former Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, unsuccessfully sued the governor last year for issuing public health orders without concurrence from the Council of State.
SB 346 now heads to the House for consideration.