West Virginia House Committees Advance Bills To Limit Governor’s Emergency Powers, Spending Of Federal Relief Funds
The West Virginia House of Delegates is making quick work of a pair of bills that address Gov. Jim Justice’s unilateral approach in the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The measures deal with the governor’s emergency powers and the spending of federal relief funds.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced House Bill 2003 Saturday morning after beginning work on the measure on Friday.
House Bill 2003 would limit the length of a state of emergency issued by the governor to 60 days unless extended by the Legislature. An extension could last 30 days or the Legislature could remove the declaration.
The bill would also give the Legislature the authority to limit the actions made by the governor under a state of emergency.
Among other minor changes to House Bill 2003, the committee adopted an amendment from Del. Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, which made it clear that the bill would apply to the current state of emergency related to the ongoing coronavirus.
House Judiciary Chair Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, was the only member of the committee to speak against McGheehan’s amendment.
“I fear that this could cause confusion with timelines and deadlines. We're in the middle of an unforeseen and, frankly, very novel and dangerous pandemic right now. We're trying to ensure that we correct a structural imperfection in our powers of government,” Capito said. “And I think it's important that we move forward with the bill as it's drafted without this amendment.”
Other members of the committee spoke in favor of McGeehan’s amendment.
Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, spoke in support of the proposed change and said Justice “has been operating the state like a king” since the governor first offered executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“That's just not a good way to go about business. It's not a good way for us to represent our areas,” Fluharty said.
Justice declared a state of preparedness on Mar. 4, 2020. Less than two weeks later — and just ahead of announcing the state’s first detected case of the virus — Justice declared a state of emergency on Mar. 16, 2020.
But the measure isn't the only one seeking to reel in the governor's powers in the context of emergencies.
Members of the House Finance Committee also advanced Thursday a bill that would clarify the Legislature’s “power of the purse” — particularly when it comes to spending federal relief dollars. House Bill 2014 would give the Legislature authority over federal funds in excess of $150 million.
While the House continues to advance the two measures, Justice has disagreed with the effort to reel in his spending authority. At a virtual news briefing Monday — and ahead of the legislative session — Justice said his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic has been effective.
“I’ve surely been working all the time with the Legislature. And you’ve got complete transparency — total transparency on my side. I’m going to do the same thing for another four years,” Justice said.
House Bill 2014 was read for the first time in a rare, early session Saturday, teeing the measure up for a vote Tuesday in front of the full House. House Bill 2003 — which would limit the governor’s powers in a state of emergency — is expected to be read on the floor for the first time Monday.