March marked two years since Gov. J.B. Pritzker first declared a state of emergency as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Illinois. In that time, Pritzker has extended his emergency powers 26 times, acting alone when imposing emergency policies that have lasting effects on Illinoisians.
Weddings have been postponed, businesses permanently closed and livelihoods destroyed in the time Pritzker issued 112 emergency executive orders.
Pritzker’s use of emergency powers made sense at the beginning of the pandemic, but after two years it is time to restore checks and balances on Illinois’ executive branch. Other state legislatures have limited executive emergency powers. The Illinois General Assembly should do so as well.
Emergency powers are granted to governors in times of dire need, such as when the country is grappling with a deadly disease. They allow governors to act quickly, rather than awaiting a legislature that is designed to be slow and deliberative.
Currently, the only limit on the governor’s authority comes from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act, which limits Pritzker’s disaster proclamations to 30 days. But Pritzker has renewed his emergency powers 26 times after prior proclamations expired – seeking neither approval nor input from the General Assembly.
The governor’s most recent executive order came on March 4, 2022. But while governors declared a state of emergency in all 50 states following the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, many legislatures began to roll back emergency powers as the pandemic progressed. In fact, most states in the Midwest no longer live under a state of emergency.
Even if it wanted to, the Illinois state legislature cannot currently limit the governor’s extension of emergency powers without either cooperation from the governor or a veto-proof majority. But other states serve as examples for how Illinois could fix this.
At least 34 states have some sort of legislative check in place for the duration of emergency executive powers. Twenty-two states empower state lawmakers to end a state of emergency by resolution at any time, while 12 states require state legislatures to approve any extension of emergency declarations.
Looking to Illinois’ neighbors, Ohio passed a measure to establish legislative oversight of the executive branch’s use of emergency powers in 2021, and Michigan recently repealed the state statute authorizing emergency executive powers.
Illinois should follow the lead of the majority of states and give the General Assembly the power to place limits on the duration of emergency executive powers.
The governor is not a king. No one person should be able to unilaterally extend emergency powers to indefinitely bypass the normal process of legislation. At some point, policy responses must involve the legislative and executive branches working together.
Legislators are more directly accountable to their constituents than statewide officials, and those constituents deserve to be represented in the response to COVID-19 – or to the next emergency.
A governor’s emergency powers need to expire. The governor alone should not decide when that is. As the COVID-19 emergency winds down, now is the time to think about reforming executive emergency powers.
Extending emergency powers should require the approval of a majority of lawmakers in each chamber of the Illinois General Assembly. At the least, the General Assembly should be given authority to end a state of emergency by passing a joint resolution of both chambers.
A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate last month would amend the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act to require the governor to get the General Assembly’s approval to extend his emergency powers after 30 days.
Emergency executive powers can be a necessary aspect of governing in times of crisis. But powers meant to deal with a disaster cannot be allowed to go on forever, especially not on the say-so of one man.
This article was originally posted on Illinois should join neighbor states, limit Pritzker’s emergency powers