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ArlingtonLocal legislators split on bill to restrain governor's power

Local legislators split on bill to restrain governor’s power

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Five of Arlington’s seven-member General Assembly delegation voted in support of a measure that will limit the power of governors to act unilaterally for an indeterminate period in a crisis.

Legislation sponsored by state Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke) on March 9 cleared the House of Delegates on a 91-8 vote, following earlier passage in the state Senate by a margin of 29-11. Gov. Youngkin is expected to sign the bill.

The measure is in some ways a rebalancing of executive-vs.-legislative relationship in the commonwealth during the COVID era. The Old Dominion’s previous governor, Ralph Northam, used existing emergency powers to impose executive orders that ran on indefinitely in some cases.

“Limiting the duration of unilateral emergency executive orders with the force of law is critical to restoring checks and balances in the commonwealth,” Suetterlein said in a statement after the measure passed the House of Delegates.


(Once passage was in the bag, Suetterlein – who gained bipartisan support in both houses for it – decided the time was right to add a partisan jab. “It is important that we do this while we have a reasonable governor like Glenn Youngkin, because the kind of governor that would need these limits would never sign them into law in the first place,” he said.)

The new law has two pieces, one taking effect July 1 of this year and the other a year later. It effectively limits executive orders issued by the governor under an emergency/disaster declaration to a duration of 45 days, and prohibits a governor from extending or issuing a similar executive order on the same topic during the course of a declared emergency, unless the General Assembly acts to ratify the actions.

Current state law makes executive orders issued under an emergency declaration valid until June 30 following the next regular session of the General Assembly, giving them lives of a year or more.

Suetterlein had proposed the measure in both the 2020 and 2021 General Assembly sessions, but it was not acted on by what then were Democratic majorities in each house and Northam as governor.

Two Senate Democrats – Chap Petersen and Lynwood Lewis – co-sponsored the 2022 version in the Senate, assuring it of passage despite that party’s 21-19 control of the body. Among the 11 “no” votes were Arlington senators Adam Ebbin and Barbara Favola. (Janet Howell, who also represents the county, was among 10 Democrats supporting the measure.)

In the House of Delegates, all four Arlington members – Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez, Rip Sullivan and Elizabeth Bennett-Parker – were among the 39 of 48 House Democrats who joined all 52 Republicans in backing the bill (SB 4).

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