Wilt Introduces Amendment Providing Legislative Check for Governor Emergency Powers

August 4, 2020

Harrisonburg- Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Broadway) introduced a proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution Wednesday that would grant the General Assembly oversight and authority over certain emergency orders issued by the Governor.

The resolution, if approved, would require any emergency executive order issued by the Governor that restricts, limits or prohibits otherwise lawful action by a private business, non-profit entity, or individual to be approved by the General Assembly before it can continue for more than 45 days. Currently, the Governor has broad discretion over emergency orders and their duration with no ability for the General Assembly to directly weigh in. Delegate Wilt feels a change to the Virginia Constitution is necessary to ensure the proper balance of power between the executive and legislative branch of state government and to help protect the rights of Virginia citizens.

“As we have come to realize over the course of the last several months, the Governor has broad authority to require citizens to suspend or alter otherwise lawful actions. A direct result of this compliance might mean the loss of one’s livelihood, ability to worship or move about freely,” stated Wilt. “While emergency powers for our executive remain necessary to ensure quick response to a crisis situation, there must be some check on this authority to ensure the lawmaking body elected by the citizens has a say in the duration of these emergency orders that have the force of law. According to a study by the National Conference of State Legislatures, roughly 34 other states and several U.S. territories grant this type of authority to their legislative body in some form and it’s time the Commonwealth become one of them.”

In order for the amendment to be adopted into the Virginia Constitution, it would have to pass the General Assembly twice, with a legislative election in between each passage. It would then be placed on the ballot for approval by the voters. Despite the timeframe for such passage, Delegate Wilt feels a Constitutional Amendment is necessary because of legal challenges and hurdles regular legislation could face. While he indicated the current orders put in place by Governor Northam in response to COVID-19 were the impetus for the legislation, he views the proposal as a way to prevent overreach by a future administration.

“Regardless of party affiliation or how you may feel about the current Governor’s actions and response to COVID-19, I hope my fellow legislators and the citizens would agree that we must guard against a future Governor using this situation as precedent to unnecessarily overreach without limitation in the future,” said Wilt.

Elected in 2010, Delegate Wilt represents the 26th District in the Virginia House of Delegates, which includes Harrisonburg and part of Rockingham County.