Rep. Bell: Two years later, it’s time to end Gov. Roy Cooper’s COVID-19 emergency

By Rep. John Bell
The News & Observer
March 10, 2022

Earlier this week, the entire North Carolina House Republican Caucus sent an open letter to Governor Roy Cooper calling on him to end his COVID-19 state of emergency declaration.

Thursday, March 10, marks two years since Governor Cooper first issued Executive Order No. 116 to unilaterally put the citizens of North Carolina under an emergency order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Carolina has now been under the Governor’s self-declared statewide emergency for over 38% of his entire tenure in office – or 730 days.

After two years of executive orders that shut down businesses, restricted gatherings, closed schools, and mandated masks, the people of North Carolina are more than ready to move on.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced it is dropping universal indoor mask recommendations, and school districts and local governments across our state are ending their mask mandates.

Furthermore, new cases have plummeted in the past month — from a 7-day average of approximately 22,000 a month ago to approximately 3,000. Hospitalizations are also down from 5,089 a month ago to 1,618. As these key metrics continue to fall and vaccines remain readily available to those who want one, there is no justification for a continued state of emergency.

Simply put, there is no emergency. Across the nation, over half of the states have already ended their statewide emergency orders, with others detailing plans to do so soon.

Yet, there is still no plan or exit strategy set forth by the Cooper Administration outlining how and when the nearly two-year state of emergency can be lifted.

Last year, my colleague Rep. Keith Kidwell and I sent a letter to Governor Cooper requesting what specific “metrics and data” would need to be met for his state of emergency to end. We never even received a response.

This is unacceptable. The people of North Carolina should not have to live under the continued threat and uncertainty of new emergency executive actions and restrictions that have severely impacted and limited their lives for the past two years.

Currently, the governor can unilaterally declare a state-emergency and continue issuing executive emergency orders for as long as he desires. Clearly, this is not how a constitutional republic works.

Thankfully, a much-needed provision was included in the state’s bipartisan budget to place new checks and balances on the Governor’s unilateral emergency powers. Specifically, this new provision requires the governor to secure approval from the Council of State, who are the 10 statewide elected officials in the executive branch, within 30 days of an emergency order. After 60 days, the General Assembly would have to agree to an extension.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic required emergency action. However, like most other states, there needs to be limits on a governor’s emergency powers and bipartisan input over such consequential decisions.

At the end of the day, it does not matter who is governor. Republican or Democrat. The governor of North Carolina was never intended to have such absolute authority, especially for an unlimited time.

Unfortunately, this provision does not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2023. That is why we are calling on Gov. Cooper to immediately end his now two-year emergency order and allow our state to move forward and return to a sense of normalcy.

Rep. John R. Bell, IV is the North Carolina House Majority Leader. He represents House District 10.