RALEIGH – The Senate Judiciary Committee has given it’s approval to House Bill 264, the Emergency Powers Accountability Act, bringing it one step closer to a veto override showdown over how much power one person should have during an “emergency.”
Working on our second full year of Pandemic Panic, the lessons learned are many. Few more than that of resting too much power and authority in a single person, who might use it against the will and consent of far more representative bodies and wield a de facto waiver of core constitutional rights in the name of emergency.
That is exactly what happened in North Carolina and states across the country as overzealous governors, mayors, and health officials unilaterally shutdown businesses, restricted movements, enacted curfews, criminalized gatherings, and mandated masks.
In North Carolina, much of it was done in direct opposition to the Council of State consensus, a constitutionally relevant body full of statewide elected officials, and from which the governor is obligated to seek concurrence on such issues. Yet, the letter of the law didn’t obligate the governor quite enough, to put it simply. The authors of the Act passed by this committee seek to fix that, by codifying a framework for how long states of emergency can last before being subjected to a Council of State and/or legislative vote, and expiring in full if that concurrence is not achieved within a prescribed time frame.
The changes would ensure that any statewide emergencies could not become the open ended source of panic policy under unilateral direction in future “emergencies,” something House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne) spoke to when presenting the bill back in March:
“If you look at the bill text and the way the bill is written, it actually, really confirms what our Constitution of the United States says, and what our state constitution says: there’s no unilateral rule in a Republic. And so when you try to get into re-openings and what the governor did, or didn’t do, or how this, or that; that has no bearing on the bill.
This body, our body, is constitutionally responsible for looking at laws and passing legislation, and navigating it through. This is nothing more than what we currently do when updating rules and regulations. I would tell you, two years ago we wouldn’t be standing here and having this conversation, there’s not a single person in this room that would have ever thought we would’ve been dealing with a worldwide pandemic. But I do believe that our function of government works very well.
That’s the reason why I can’t walk into the House chamber and do exactly what I would want to do, I’ve got to have 61, or 60 people join in with me to pass a bill, 72 to override.
You cannot walk into the chamber and do exactly what you want to do; there has to be agreement. There has to be compromise. More heads are always better than one, and that’s what we’re doing here, we’re reaffirming this. We’re putting parameters in place to prepare us for the next pandemic, the next statewide or national emergency. We don’t know what the future holds.”
In sharing the news of the committee passage to Facebook, Bell wrote: “No one person – regardless of party – should have such sweeping unilateral authority, especially for an endless time. Clearly, there needs to be reforms to this process to ensure checks and balances.”
Follow the bill here.