Legislative session may lead to new showdown

By PAUL DEMARCO / Guest Columnist

As we are almost a year into the pandemic, Alabama has undergone the same turmoil as other states on how to address the health and well-being of its citizens.

Gov. Kay Ivey enacted a state of emergency and lockdown on the state last spring and was criticized for taking too long to take action to protect the public from the coronavirus.

As the lockdown dragged on and people lost their jobs and small businesses struggled, the Governor was called on the carpet for not ending the restrictions early enough.

The discussion of executive power in the context of the pandemic has not been limited to just Alabama as other states across the nation have debated the appropriate use of emergency powers in the past year. The governors have struggled to balance safety versus the pandemic’s impact on the economy. Legislators and the public have been critiquing the timing and appropriateness of those restrictions on all sides of the issue. Alabama lawmakers are now looking at legislation to provide a check on the governor’s powers when another emergency hits the state in the future.

During the first week of the 2021 Alabama Legislative session, the Senate Judiciary Committee has passed a bill that would limit a governor’s ability to call a state of emergency from 60 to 14 days. The declaration could only be extended with a joint resolution of the Legislature or if the Legislature is not in session, by proclamation of the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem. The bill also would prohibit any order from the governor that would suspend any state statutes from taking effect until 48 hours after having giving notice to legislative leadership.

Legislators also want to limit the powers of the state health officer in issuing orders upon a state of emergency as well.

There currently is conflict between the executive and legislative branches in Alabama over how to address the chronic issues with the state prisons. Gov. Ivey and some legislators have already fought over the use of federal funds for the handling of the coronavirus outbreak and infrastructure projects in the state as well.

There will now be a debate during the upcoming session on whether and how to limit the governor’s powers, so we will see if the Alabama Legislature sets up the showdown with the governor.

Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives.