On March 10, 2020 N.C. Governor Roy Cooper unilaterally enacted a state of emergency in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Nineteen months later that declaration remains in force without any end in sight. This is an unconstitutional overreach on Cooper’s part that should have a means of legislative oversight.
On Monday Gov. Cooper vetoed House Bill 264 “Emergency Accountability Act” passed by the legislature, that sets more detailed procedures for the declaration of a state of emergency and establishes a process for its end. Currently the legislation is open ended, requiring only that the governor seek concurrence with his council of state to include all nine of the other state elected officials- Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, State Auditor, Treasurer, State School Superintendent, Attorney General, and commissioners of agriculture, labor and insurance.
Gov. Cooper’s veto did not come as a surprise. He obviously appreciates authority, especially when that authority is solely in his hands, so of course he was expected to veto the bill. Because the bill was passed on partisan lines, he knows that as long as the Democrat caucus continues to support him, the veto will lack the super majority for a legislative override.
Since Cooper’s March 10, 2020 declaration, made without the approval of the Council of State, he has not sought nor accepted that body’s recommendation as to how to handle response to the pandemic, instead making unilateral decisions on what businesses can operate and under what conditions. Supposedly his primary, if not sole advisor has been Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services.
During this period the state has been controlled by a variety of executive orders- over 200. Many of the orders have been turned back by court order, but none the less they have restrained trade, and in some cases ruined businesses and by extension, lives.
Recognizing the dictatorial authority that the N.C. Emergency Management Act of 1977 has inadvertently provided to the governor, the legislature passed H.B. 264 that tempers the governor’s executive powers by setting limits on the length of time declarations of a state of emergency may last before further approval is needed by the Council of State.
In announcing his reason for the veto the governor took oblique credit for the improving health conditions across the state, “with lives saved and a strong economy because of statewide measures to protect public health under the Emergency Management Act.” His public statement totally ignored the success that resulted from the outstanding work by first responders, the medical community and the “warp speed” at which vaccines were created.
Not only did he side step the work of others, he went on to equate any efforts to seek concurrence as tantamount to political interference and that these decisions should stay with experts in public health and safety. He concludes that “emergency needs decisive, quick and comprehensive action, not bureaucracy and politics.”
In retrospect the governor over the past 19 months has made a political calculus not to seek concurrence with the council of state, in contravention of the state’s current statute, and instead has relied on bureaucrats that he appointed to administer his mandates.
As has been experienced with unilateral executive orders that have arbitrarily shut businesses while allowing others to operate unfettered, the public is very much at the mercy of one individual- the governor. There have been successful legal challenges of these executive orders but this has taken time and money from the very people, small business owners, who could least afford either.
As Rep. Keith Kidwell, ( R), Beaufort County, H.B.264’s chief state house sponsor, noted in response to the veto, the governor “is putting power and politics over the our constitution and what is good for our state.” He stated further, “The governor’s veto undermines our constitution, the balance of powers and the rule of law.”
He goes further in questioning the power invested in one person- the governor. This question is one that should concern legislators regardless of party affiliation. If the governor continues to wield this kind of power, their job is superfluous and in the end a waste of money.
Commenting on the length of the state of emergency declaration, Sen. Bill Rabon, (R ) Brunswick County, noted that, “There is no emergency-none- that lasts for nearly two years. At that point, it’s no longer an ‘emergency’- it’s the new status quo.”