Governor’s Abuse of Emergency Powers Highlights Need for Constitutional Change

Many are concerned over the governor’s use of emergency powers during this COVID-19 outbreak. Few remember that they were granted under the 2019 SJR 8200, which passed with voter approval by 65.5%. As usual the small change had an unintended consequence. The constitutional change was quite simple, it added: “catastrophic incident” to the already in place “or enemy attack.”  When passed, the legislature was thinking about volcanic eruptions, earthquakes or a tsunami event. No one was thinking biological.

The biggest infringement of civil liberties began when the governor unilaterally started picking winners and losers in our state economy. His determination of “essential” and “non-essential” businesses and industries created such a financial hardship on some small businesses that many have already or will soon look to declare bankruptcy.

I have yet to hear why it was okay for construction on low-income government projects to continue, but residential and commercial projects had to stop. Why could you sell a house, but not a car?  The governor’s recent rules on church services are so absurd it is hard to believe that they were developed by an elected official with any reason. You can attend a church service drive-in movie style, windows rolled up (car running because you would need the AC on otherwise you would cook in your car with current temperatures), and you cannot receive any handouts or food. The food part is a reference to Catholics and Christian denominations who receive Holy Communion, which the governor’s office refers to as a “cracker.” You can drive up to a McDonald’s afterward, roll down your window and get handed a bag of food with no problem at all.

My contention is that the emergency has passed. The original goal of the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order was to flatten the rates of infection so as not to overwhelm our health care system. That happened. Therefore, he no longer has emergency powers. That does not mean that we should not still be implementing health safety protocols, but we are all adults and it’s time to trust the people.  If a business does not have a health protocol in place that people are comfortable with, they won’t go there.

There are other consequences to a prolonged shut down; an increase in suicide, drug abuse, domestic violence and child abuse. It is time to end this heavy-handed approach that is leading us toward economic destruction. We can and must strike a balance. We can keep people safe, reduce risk of further infections and let people use the information and guidance we’ve developed to safely return to work. We don’t want the so-called cure to be worse than the disease.

With respect to the constitutional issue, perhaps we count this as a lesson learned and work to roll back that recent change.