Law proposed that could limit Virginia governor’s shutdown orders to 30 days

Virginia Beach

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — A bill before the Virginia General Assembly would drastically limit the amount of time an executive order from the governor could be in effect.

Under the legislation put forward by State Sen. Steven Newman (R-Forest), orders like those currently in place to combat the coronavirus pandemic, such as those limiting business operations and gatherings, would only be allowed to be in place for 30 days.

After the 30-day period, the governor could re-issue the same order a second 30-day period if the General Assembly doesn’t act on the order itself. But even a similar order could not be issued a third time.

Newman’s bill was the first filed for consideration at a special legislative session planned for next month. Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va) is calling legislators back to Richmond to focus on the state budget in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as well as criminal and social justice reform.

The proposal is sure to be popular with largely conservative groups who have called Northam’s orders an “overreach.”

“We have been living under government by press conference and government by executive order for over 100 days now. And that’s not what our Constitution, that’s not what our executive order section of the code was meant to do,” Newman said Friday afternoon. “We need to get the General Assembly, the legislature back involved in that process.”

Newman called the rollout of Northam’s Forward Virginia plan “a hot mess.” Recalling how often Northam would announce an executive order exists but no immediate details, Newman says this led to confusion and the need for clarifications that the legislative process could have solved.

He also believes the General Assembly could have made sure nursing homes had more resources to fight the virus. Nearly 60 percent of Virginia’s COVID-19 tests have occurred in long-term care facilities.

“I believe that the Republicans and Democrats could have come together and help the governor lead,” Newman said.

But Northam’s administration thinks the bill would cause more damage.

“Emergencies can change fast, and COVID-19 shows that they are not always limited to some arbitrary timeframe like 60 days. And since the law requires the Governor to respond to emergencies and to mitigate their effects on Virginians, he must be able to act swiftly and with flexibility, as changing conditions require,” said Grant Neely, Northam’s chief communications officer. “Under Senator Newman’s proposed bill, Virginia’s response to the pandemic would have ended weeks ago in May, effectively leaving 8.5 million Virginians without a leader or during a worldwide health crisis. That’s a bad idea, and so is this bill.”

Newman said the governor is simply viewing his idea through the wrong lens.

“The governor’s office should not fear this bill. They should support this bill because this bill is a bill that allows the General Assembly to come in and allows democracy to help make my decisions,” Newman said. 

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