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Research & Commentary: New Jersey Assembly Considering Common Sense Restrictions For Current and Future Governors

May 25, 2022

In this Research & Commentary, Samantha Fillmore examines an Assembly Bill in New Jersey that would place common sense restrictions on the governor during a state of emergency.

The New Jersey State Assembly has introduced Assembly Bill 3429, a bill that would rein in executive powers granted to the governor during a state of emergency.

The legislation states that a state of emergency declaration issued by the Governor may be terminated by the Legislature by concurrent resolution if the resolution receives a two-thirds affirmative vote of the authorized membership of each House of the Legislature.

AB 3429 further stipulates that a state of emergency declaration issued by the Governor shall terminate automatically 60 days after the date of issuance unless an extension is authorized by the Legislature. The Legislature may authorize perpetual extensions so long as they are less than 30 days, but not more than 90 days, by concurrent resolution as receive a majority vote of the authorized membership of each House of the Legislature.

The Governor shall not issue for the same emergency a declaration to the same or substantially same effect as one that has been terminated, except in accordance with a law that permits the issuance of another declaration specifically for that emergency. Additionally, the Legislature may conduct the vote on any concurrent resolution specified by any means it deems necessary and appropriate.

Moreover, the Governor shall notify the Legislature in writing of the need for an extension of any state of emergency declaration issued at least seven business days before an extension is authorized by the Legislature. The notice shall provide information on the need for the extension of such declaration and the threat to the public health or safety that requires the extension.

Under Assembly Bill 3429, the Governor shall receive and publish in the New Jersey Register any comments from the chairs and ranking minority member of the relevant standing reference committees of the Legislature on any notice given. The publication shall include a response from the Executive Branch.

If the Governor fails to provide the notice required for an extension, the state of emergency declaration shall terminate unless and extension of the declaration is approved.

Assembly Bill 3429 is a step in the right direction towards curbing gubernatorial power during emergency declarations, especially after the coronavirus pandemic shed light upon how easily these can be abused.

During the pandemic, many Americans saw their respective governors wield unprecedented power with seemingly unlimited emergency declarations. This overnight shift in governance, coupled with a plethora of governors who abused their pandemic emergency powers, has left several states reevaluating constitutional statutes pertaining to emergency provisions and powers granted to the governor during a state of emergency. With AB 3429, New Jersey is no exception.

This change to the current New Jersey laws surrounding the establishment of a state of emergency is paramount to prohibit governors present or future from excessively extending state of emergency powers long past the point of necessity, and wielding other powers that affect the economy, small businesses, and education.

Simply put, AB 3429 creates commonsense restrictions and limitations on gubernatorial powers. Furthermore, it reintegrates the legislature into the governing process during states of emergency. It aligns with many of the principles developed by The Heartland Institute during the pandemic, which legislators can reference upon any gubernatorial abuses of power.

Some of these ideas and principles include:

  1. The ability to immediately nullify an emergency proclamation via resolution.
  2. The creation of time limitations for an emergency order, renewable by the legislature.
  3. The ability to pass a resolution that requires the governor to call a special session to approve of an emergency proclamation if the legislature is out of session.
  4. Permitting an interim committee or group of legislative leaders to extend or reject emergency proclamations.
  5. The imposition of specific limits to executive authority during an emergency proclamation (i.e., restricting the governor from unilaterally closing businesses, closing houses of worship, shutting down freedom of the press, and rescinding the right to bear arms).

There is a clear appetite among lawmakers and constituents to restrict gubernatorial overreach, especially after governors across the country dictated policy like kings throughout the pandemic. Via this legislation, New Jersey lawmakers can catch up to their peers in other states who have already taken measures to rein in executive authority.

Co-equal governance, checks and balances, and the decentralization of power are bedrock principles of American democracy. Yet, these fundamental principles have been AWOL in New Jersey since the pandemic.

Fortunately, lawmakers in New Jersey are beginning to stand up to gubernatorial overreach by reasserting their rightful place as a much-needed check against the executive branch.

 

The following documents provide more information about executive authority in a state of emergency.

 

Testimony Before The Georgia House Committee on Judiciary, Scoggins Subcommittee, On House Bill 358, Restoring The State Legislature’s Role In Emergency Management 

Testimony Before the Georgia House Judiciary Committee regarding legislative and executive authority in a state of emergency.

Andrew Cuomo Is Just a Governor, Not a God

Cuomo has issued multiple statements in an attempt to quell the backlash and frustration of New Yorkers and lawmakers in Albany to no avail.

Governors, Not Gods – A Heartland Institute Webinar

The Heartland Institute hosted a webinar on Aug. 27, 2020, for state legislators to discuss how they can rein in governors, who wield seemingly unlimited powers in the wake of COVID-19. For many months, Americans have been abhorred by out-of-control governors who have imposed draconian lockdowns, which have decimated small businesses and people’s livelihoods. For instance, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been roundly criticized for his heavy-handed and ineffectual response to the coronavirus outbreak in New York, which has drawn substantial blowback. Cuomo has also attempted to coverup his disastrous policy of forcing elderly patients with COVID-19 to return to nursing homes, where they spread the deadly diseases like wildfire among New York’s most vulnerable. As the days grow shorter and the temperatures dip lower, now is the time to begin exploring oversight over dictatorial governors and restore power where it rightfully belongs: With we the people, not I the governor.

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Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Heartland’s Government Relations department, at governmentrelations@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.

Article Tags
Constitutional Reform
Author
Samantha Fillmore is a State Government Relations Manager for The Heartland Institute.
sfillmore@heartland.org @GRHeartland