At what point does an emergency become the norm?
And at what point do emergency powers become just powers?
That’s the question state lawmakers need to be asking themselves as the coronavirus crisis of two months ago evens out and society tries to return to some kind of normalcy.
At what point do they get back involved in the job of governing and take back their share of responsibility for running the state.
Over the weekend, we urged lawmakers to reconvene in some way, electronically or in person by socially distancing, and get back to the business of making laws.
But even when they return, their influence will be limited by the fact that the governor still holds his emergency powers for an extended period of time.
Since he’s taken over the coronavirus response, the governor has suspended more than 250 laws — laws passed by the Legislature.
The suspension of many of these laws was necessary to give the governor the authority he needed to run the state, keep citizens safe and ensure that state and local governments continue to operate under these challenging circumstances.
But lawmakers might find that the decisions made a month or two ago are no longer necessary. They should at least be able to hold the governor more accountable during the emergency and be able extend their influence over the administration of laws should they deem it necessary.
This isn’t a reflection on the job the governor is doing, but on the job lawmakers are not.
While the governor represents the entire state, lawmakers represent smaller regional districts. So in a statewide emergency, the needs and interests of those districts get pushed to the side for the greater overall good, and not always to the benefit or best interests of those local interests.
The Legislature needs to regain control over the governor’s emergency powers..
That’s the substance of a bill cosponsored by state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara and Oneida County Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon.
Under the bill, the governor’s powers would be limited to 30-day increments. The governor could request unlimited extensions of those powers, each for another 30 days, but the Legislature would have to approve them each time.
To keep tabs on his actions during the emergency, the bill requires the governor to provide weekly reports to each lawmaker electronically detailing the suspension of laws, all executive decisions, and all communications of the governor, his agencies and affected parties in relation to the emergency declaration.
The bill would contain provisions for the Legislature to act, even when it's not in session, which is almost half the year.
These reasonable limitations give the governor the time and flexibility to exercise his constitutional powers under declared state emergencies, while giving lawmakers greater oversight over the entire emergency situation and the ability to decide when it ends.
When (if?) the Legislature reconvenes, this is one of the first bills it should pass.