Delaware Republicans seek to limit Gov. John Carney's powers in response to COVID-19 restrictions
Republican lawmakers in Delaware are pushing to limit Democratic Gov. John Carney's powers to issue statewide restrictions following a 10-month state of emergency order to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The bill by Rep. Richard Collins, R-Millsboro, which has the support of 13 other Republicans, would limit state of emergency orders to 30 days without getting approval from the 62-person General Assembly.
Right now, the governor can renew a state of emergency order without lawmakers' approval.
House Bill 49 is a direct response to the state of emergency order that Carney first issued in mid-March and is still in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state. The order has led to several rounds of restrictions, including a ban on indoor dining. Indoor dining has since been allowed to resume at a limited capacity.
Residents in the spring also faced a stay-at-home order and the closing of certain businesses that were deemed nonessential, but those restrictions have also been lifted as society has adapted to social distancing guidelines and mask-wearing. Now, people in the state are required to wear a mask at all times when indoors with people they don't live with, among a slew of other restrictions.
Since the spring, the governor's critics have held rallies — often without masks or social distancing — to protest certain restrictions such as beach and business closures. Some Republican lawmakers have attended those events.
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Carney has consistently said that his state of emergency order restrictions are based on science and are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 in order to avoid overwhelming hospitals and prevent deaths. He also says his state of emergency decisions are based on guidance from public health officials.
Polling shows that people in the state have largely approved so far of the restrictions despite the financial and emotional sacrifices they've had to endure. In November, Carney won reelection with 59% of the vote against his Republican opponent, attorney Julianne Murray, whose main campaign promise was to do away with his state of emergency order.
Collins and the main senator behind the bill, Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford, tried to pass a similar bill last year but were unsuccessful in getting it to the floor.
It's unclear if Collins' new bill would even make it to a floor vote in the Democrat-controlled Statehouse, where the majority party controls both chambers and gained seats in November.
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No Democrats had signed onto the bill as of Wednesday.
It's also unclear how Republicans plan to convince Carney to sign the bill into law, should lawmakers somehow pass it. Collins said he wouldn't expect Carney to sign the bill until "after the current emergency is over."
Lawmakers began their first day of the 2021 legislative session on Tuesday. They are holding committee hearings and floor debates over Zoom instead of in Dover's Legislative Hall to avoid spreading the virus.
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The lawmakers behind the bill insist that it should not be seen as a jab against Carney, even though many of them attended rallies last year protesting his state of emergency actions. They say the current law gives the executive branch too much unchecked power.
Delaware public health officials have said since the spring that the state cannot fully reopen until there are an effective COVID-19 treatment and a vaccine.
The state began administering vaccines last month and, so far, more than 28,000 shots have been given. That's still very much in the early stages, and not nearly enough people have been vaccinated yet to where public health officials would consider the population to have achieved widespread immunity to the virus.
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If passed, the General Assembly would have to meet at least once a month to consider a state of emergency renewal request from the governor and couldn't approve any extension longer than 30 days. If it's impossible for lawmakers to meet due to dire emergency or disaster, then leadership could suspend the approval process.
The bill also says that an emergency order that isn't weather-related and is issued within six months of a similar emergency order has to be approved by the General Assembly. Also per the bill, any non-weather-related emergency order that requires businesses and religious facilities to close has to specify exactly which places must close.
Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 324-2281. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.