Republicans use budget to try to limit governor’s powers

Associated Press
Published: 3/24/2021 5:18:02 PM

A House subcommittee on Wednesday recommended adding a provision to the state budget to limit the governor’s power to renew a state of emergency.

The amendment was a concession to lawmakers who have chafed at actions taken by fellow Republican Gov. Chris Sununu during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a way for many of the people in the Legislature who were upset they weren’t involved at all in the declaration of emergency and wanted to have some say,” said Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston. “I have to try to get people to vote for the budget, and if this is something I can get them to agree to, to vote for the budget, I’ll put it in there.”

Sununu declared a state of emergency in March 2020 and has renewed it every 21 days since. Under the amendment recommended by a subsection of the House Finance Committee, he and future governors would only be able to renew such declarations once, unless the clerk of the House or Senate determines that at least half the Legislature is “incapacitated or missing.”

“This amendment restricts management of the state in a time of crisis and puts the health and wellbeing of our citizens in danger,” Sununu said in a statement after the vote.

A similar provision is included in a stand-alone bill, but Weyler said adding it to the budget — which won’t be approved until June — provided a “belt and suspenders” assurance that the idea would move forward.

“There is a significant amount of the Legislature that believes that its legislative role during the state of emergency has been minimized beneath the role envisioned in the spirit of our Constitution,” said Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn. “There does not appear to be any firm metrics that the public currently understands to be the conditions under which the state of emergency will be lifted.”

The subcommittee voted 4-3 along party lines to recommend the amendment. Democrats raised concerns about giving so much authority to clerks that aren’t publicly elected, and they complained about the process of bringing in the amendment just as the committee was wrapping up its work.

“I’m just disappointed that this really colors the way we all feel at the end of the day, and I think it’s sort of an embarrassment to the public that we conducted this way,” said Rep. Sharon Nordgren, D-Hanover.

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