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By California Legislator Kevin Kiley
Past Governors have invoked the California Emergency Services Act to responsibly manage disasters. But Gavin Newsom’s one-man rule has shown this obscure law from 1970 is dangerous. In the wrong hands, it’s a threat to our system of government and way of life.
The Act suspends the usual constitutional order, conferring powers that are self-awarded, unbounded, and indefinite.
It not only gives the Governor extraordinary powers, but lets him define their outer limits – or lack thereof – himself. The Governor alone declares the State of Emergency, he decides how long it lasts, and he determines his own authority pursuant to it.
For Gov. Newsom, this has meant awarding himself carte blanche lawmaking privileges – the right to rule the state by fiat with no end in sight. He’s issued 43 Executive Orders and changed over 220 duly enacted laws spanning 17 California codes. He’s spent billions with virtually no oversight.
This abuse of emergency powers is unprecedented. Just consider elections: where previous Governors modestly invoked the Act to get ballots to first responders who were away from home fighting wildfires, Gov. Newsom seized on it to overhaul the entire November election six months in advance.
Of course, the Court ruled against him in our legal challenge, finding he’s exceeded the scope of the emergency. But without the Emergency Services Act, his one-man rule could never have gotten off the ground in the first place.
At the very least, the Act must be changed to (1) put an expiration date on a State of Emergency. The Act should also require (2) the Governor to actually prove Executive Orders are related to the emergency, and it should (3) make the suspension of any law subject to approval by the Legislature.
Gavin Newsom’s lack of restraint has already done considerable damage to our democratic institutions. We need these added safeguards to assure our system of checks and balances never again collapses during a crisis.
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