Cruz, Paolino sponsor bill looking to limit governor’s emergency powers

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PROVIDENCE – Five members of the Senate Republican caucus have sponsored legislation that would limit the governor to one 30-day renewal of a declaration of emergency without a joint resolution of the General Assembly – including two northern Rhode Island senators.

Senate bill 2021-S 0255 was submitted by Sen. Gordon Rogers, of District 21 in Coventry, Foster, Scituate and West Greenwich, and cosponsors include Senate Minority Whip Jessica de la Cruz of District 23 in Burrillville, Glocester, and North Smithfield; and Sen. Thomas Paolino of District 17 in Lincoln, North Providence and North Smithfield.

“The public health emergency that we have been living through for nearly a year now has illustrated that the law as it’s currently written gives the governor far too much power in declared states of emergency,” Rogers said. “The governor has been running the state almost exclusively by executive order without any legislative oversight.”

The sponsors point out that the governor has issued or renewed approximately 120 executive orders since the initial declaration of disaster on March 9, 2020. The legislature is meant to serve as a check on the executive branch, which has not been happening, the senators said.

“While we recognize the power a governor needs to have in emergencies, we have learned there must be limits to that power,” said de la Cruz. “The dispute is to what extent do you use those executive powers, and when does it become an overreach on the other two branches of government.”

“The lack of legislative oversight during the pandemic is especially obvious in light of Rhode Island’s troubled vaccine rollout,” said Paolino. “We have now witnessed how this power can be abused without General Assembly oversight.

Rogers said introducing the bill is not political in nature.

“We have a legislature that’s designed to provide oversight as a check and balance,” Rogers said. “This isn’t a political issue, it’s a constitutional issue.”

States around the country are grappling with this same issue, the senators noted, pointing out that that legislatures in more than 30 states are pursuing legislation on unchecked executive authority in the 2021 legislative session.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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