Wilt Renews Effort to Limit Governor Emergency Powers

November 23, 2020

Harrisonburg- On Monday Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Broadway) reintroduced his proposal to amend Virginia’s Constitution to give the General Assembly a say in the Governor’s emergency orders.

Delegate Wilt originally offered the resolution during the recently concluded special session, but the committee that handles proposed constitutional amendments never convened. He is confident it will be given a hearing during the upcoming regular session.

If approved, the amendment 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. According to a review by the National Conference of State Legislatures, roughly 34 other states and several U.S. territories grant some type of authority to their legislative body to review and consider orders by the executive.

“For over eight months now, the Governor has had the sole discretion to issue orders in response to COVID-19 that limit citizen’s ability to gather, worship, maintain employment and operate their businesses,” said Wilt. “Even for those that agree with the Governor’s actions to date, everyone should recognize this is a lot of power for the executive. My proposal will restore the appropriate balance of power to ensure the lawmaking body of our Commonwealth can weigh in on actions that have the force of law.”

For the amendment to be adopted into the Virginia Constitution, it would need 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 acknowledges 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 guard against overreach by a future administration.

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