HB 358 Provides a Check on Gubernatorial Power

In March 2020, a Kentucky-based think tank, the Pegasus Institute, asked me to write a guest blog post on how governors, particularly Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY), have used their executive power to impose lockdowns. Only a few months before, I had published a federally focused paper, Restoring the Balance of Powers, on the necessity of Congress reclaiming its Article I powers.

Obviously, most legislatures meet for only part of the year, so governors are given a substantial amount of power. Georgia is no different. But the General Assembly may move to restrain some of the Governor’s power, or, at least, give lawmakers a say in the matter.

The AJC has highlighted a series of legislation that would provide a check on gubernatorial power in Georgia. Gov. Kemp has already introduced the Faith Protection Act, HB 536, via one of his floor leaders, state Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R-Douglas). Another bill, HB 468, would allow businesses to continue to operate during a public health emergency as long as they comply with health and safety measures.

One proposal, though, has been met with a veto threat. State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) has introduced HB 358. This proposal would provide a legislative check on gubernatorial power by requiring that the General Assembly renew a state of emergency or disaster after 30 days through a concurrent resolution.

HB 358 would allow the General Assembly to continue the state of emergency or disaster for up to 90 days. The 90-day period is renewable. The legislation also allows the General Assembly to place limitations on gubernatorial power.

Kemp isn’t fond of the proposal. As the AJC notes, “The governor said Monday that he has ‘serious concerns’ about the proposal, particularly the logistics of summoning lawmakers to vote after 30 days during a global pandemic or another disaster, and then again every 90 days. Besides, lawmakers can bring themselves in for a special session with a three-fifths vote to curtail a governor’s order if they so choose.”

One could argue that this misses the point. Sure, the logistics may be challenging. That said, here we are in the midst of the pandemic, during which the death toll across the country and the state has risen because of a new wave of cases, and the General Assembly is meeting. That’s not to say it’s businesses-as-usual, but the state legislature is carrying on.

More importantly, power shouldn’t rest in the hands of one elected official, regardless of his or her party affiliation. The members of the Georgia House and Georgia Senate should be a check on that power even if the end result is renewing the state of emergency or disaster. The representatives of the people should have a say in the matter. HB 358 would give them that say.

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