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Some AZ legislators weighing options to try and limit the governor's emergency powers

Arizona capitol
Posted at 5:56 PM, Jan 22, 2021

PHOENIX — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey -- like most of the nation's governors -- took extraordinary steps to mitigate the virus's spread.

He initially ordered schools and businesses, such as movie theaters, gyms, water parks, restaurants, and bars, to close, prohibited large events and gatherings, and help secure funds, PPE (personal protective equipment), and additional ventilators for the state.

Some of those mitigation efforts remain in place: bars have to operate as restaurants and at reduced capacities, restaurants and stores are limited to 50%, gyms at 50%, and large events are still banned (though cities and DHS can technically approve them).

However, some state legislatures in other states, such as Pennsylvania, are considering measures to try and limit a governor's executive authority. Some Arizona legislators are taking note.

On Friday, the Arizona Ad Hoc Committee on Legislative Oversight of Emergency Executive Powers listened to testimony from Pennsylvania state senator Kim Ward, the architect behind a measure that seeks to limit its Governor's executive authority.

It will go before Pennsylvania voters in May.

“The public wants to have input. That’s us,” Ward said. “We are closest to the people. That’s us.”

The measure asks Pennsylvania voters to decide whether to change the state constitution to reduce the length of time a governor can impose a state of emergency to 21 days.

If passed, a simple majority from both Houses of the General Assembly could then decide whether to extend the state of emergency or end it. It now moves on to the state's House of Representatives.

“We’re not saying we’re going to end the state of emergency; we’re saying we want to look at it and see if it’s necessary,” Ward said.

In Arizona, state legislators are looking at and considering various options: seeing if they have the power to repeal a governor's emergency declaration, adopt new legislation that would limit the governor's executive powers, or change Arizona's constitution.

Legislators have asked Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich for an opinion on whether or not they have the power to repeal Gov. Ducey's emergency declaration.

To adopt its own legislation, the state Legislature would need to pass both the state's House of Representatives and Senate with a super-majority to avoid a veto from the governor's office.

As for following Pennsylvania's lead and changing the state constitution, Republicans have control of the state's houses, but it is something Democrats are not likely to be inclined to do.

“I would be concerned that a simple majority is not enough deliberation and too low a hurdle to put that kind of check on the executive authority on state of emergency, particularly a pandemic,” said State Rep. Randall Friese, a Democrat who represents Tucson's ninth district.

Looking forward, the Ad Hoc Committee will send its recommendations to the state legislature for consideration.