Bill would require legislative approval for governor to extend emergency orders

Gov. Brian Kemp talks with a member of the Georgia National Guard after touring a COVID-19 testing site in Gwinnett County. The General Assembly voted in March to give Kemp emergency powers to help the state function during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislation now under consideration in the Georgia House would give the Legislature more control over those powers in the future. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Gov. Brian Kemp talks with a member of the Georgia National Guard after touring a COVID-19 testing site in Gwinnett County. The General Assembly voted in March to give Kemp emergency powers to help the state function during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislation now under consideration in the Georgia House would give the Legislature more control over those powers in the future. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

The Georgia General Assembly would have to approve any extension of a governor’s powers during a state of emergency, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic emergency, under a proposal from an Acworth Republican lawmaker.

The Legislature voted in March to give the Kemp administration broad powers, including the ability to suspend state laws, take “direct” control of civil staffers, restrict travel and limit public gatherings. Gov. Brian Kemp has extended the order several times, most recently Jan. 29.

House Science and Technology Chairman Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, said he did not introduce the bill because of issues with Kemp’s use of his authority under the emergency order Georgia lawmakers approved nearly a year ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, he said, a future governor and General Assembly could be divided on the best response to an emergency, and the Legislature should be involved in the process.

“The broader issue is what legislative oversight and what legislative involvement there is in the terms of the duration of an emergency power declaration and how legislators might be able to prescribe a more limited scope for a more limited emergency,” Setzler said Wednesday while presenting his bill to a House panel.

Lawmakers took no action on the bill.

House Bill 358 would have legislators reconvene 30 days after approving expanded emergency powers for a governor if they wanted to extend them. If the General Assembly did not meet, the powers would expire. Legislators could choose to extend the emergency powers for up to an additional 90 days, at which point they would have to meet again if they wanted to grant another extension.

Lawmakers also would have the ability to shrink or broaden the types of powers the governor could assume during an emergency each time they approved any extension.

Some of Setzler’s colleagues questioned the mechanics of reconvening in person during a state of emergency. Many noted that if they had to come back 30 days after initially granting Kemp powers in March to extend his authority to navigate the pandemic, most lawmakers would not have returned to the Capitol.

State Rep. Roger Bruce, an Atlanta Democrat, pushed to amend the bill to allow for virtual meetings.

“If it’s an emergency, we need to be able to move quick, and I can’t think of a quicker way to move than using this electronic method to meet,” Bruce said.

Under current law, once the Legislature ratifies a governor’s emergency order and grants him or her emergency powers, the governor can decide to extend them without input from lawmakers.

“The idea of having a date certain by which it terminates where the governor has to consult with the Legislature mandates legislative involvement and input,” Setzler said.

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