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Bill to curb governor, state health officer’s emergency powers fails

A Republican said before the vote that the bill could cost the state federal money, while Democrats decried it as dangerous.

Gov. Kay Ivey gave an update on the Coronavirus during a press conference Thursday March 4, 2021 in Montgomery, Ala. (HAL YEAGER/GOVERNORS OFFICE)

The Alabama House on Monday declined to pass a bill that would have curbed some powers of the governor and state health officer during state of emergency declarations. The legislation was seen by opponents as a reaction to restrictions placed on businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic, something that even the bill’s supporters echoed during debates. 

Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, introduced Senate Bill 97, which would require the Legislature to approve emergency declaration extensions after two weeks, and would require the governor to approve state health emergency declarations made by the state health officer.

Under current law, the governor can issue a 60-day state of emergency, which can be extended by the governor or the state Legislature indefinitely. 

Rep. Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka, carried Whatley’s bill in the House on Monday. Holmes said the bill takes “some of the load off of the executive branch and gives it to the state Legislature. 

“I’ve been getting plenty of this during this pandemic, that the people don’t feel like they have a say in what happened during this pandemic,” Holmes said. 

Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, explained before the vote that the bill unnecessarily takes away powers afforded to the governor and the state health officer to mitigate deadly pandemics. 

“Give me, Dr. Harris any day over the sponsor, and the man that’s carrying it for the sponsor,” Givan said, referring to State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and the bill’s sponsor. 

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The bill is seen largely by Democrats as a reaction to Gov. Kay Ivey’s business closures, imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There was a lot of discomfort out there,” Holmes said, referring to businesses during COVID-19 restrictions. 

Rep. Sam Jones, D-Mobile, said that he understands what Holmes said about receiving calls from constituents concerned about the length of restrictions during the pandemic, but that Jones isn’t sure those concerns weren’t based on economic worries rather than health data. 

“And I don’t think the two mix, when it comes to people’s lives,” Jones said. 

Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, cautioned that unless the Legislature declines to extend a state of emergency the state could lose federal funding. 

“I’m gonna warn you. You need to be careful,” Pringle said. 

House members at first approved the bill in a vote on a procedural measure, but then voted to reconsider that action. Members then voted against moving the bill along in a 41-44 vote against approving the procedural matter, which killed the bill on the last legislative day of the session.

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Written By

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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