Publications – Research and Commentary: A Virginia Senate Bill Would Limit the Duration of Executive Orders

The Virginia Legislature is trying to take a significant twist on the governor’s emergency powers during their special session with Senate Bill 731legislation that would limit the duration of decrees in the event of a state of emergency.

SB 731 states that no rule, regulation, or order issued by the governor shall have effect beyond 60 days from the date of issue unless the General Assembly acts on the rule within that time. Thereafter, the governor is prohibited from issuing the same or similar rule, regulation, or ordinance regarding the same emergency.

During the pandemic, many Americans have seen their respective governors wield unprecedented power with seemingly limitless declarations of emergency. This overnight change in governance, coupled with a plethora of governors who abused their pandemic emergency powers, has caused several states to reassess constitutional laws relating to emergency provisions and the powers granted to the governor. during a state of emergency. With SB 731, Virginia is no exception.

This change to current Virginia law is key to prohibiting Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) and future governors from overextending state of emergency powers far beyond the point of necessity, as has been seen time and again across the country throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Simply put, SB 731 creates common sense restrictions and limitations on the powers of governors. More importantly, it reintegrates the legislature into governance processes during states of emergency. It aligns with many principles developed by the Heartland Institute during the pandemic, which lawmakers can refer to when governors abuse their power.

Some of these ideas and principles include:

  1. The ability to immediately rescind an emergency proclamation via a resolution.
  2. The creation of deadlines for an emergency order, renewable by the legislator.
  3. The ability to pass a resolution that requires the governor to call a special session to approve an emergency proclamation if the legislature is out of session.
  4. Allow an interim committee or group of legislative leaders to extend or reject emergency proclamations.
  5. The imposition of specific limits on executive power during an emergency proclamation (i.e. preventing the governor from unilaterally closing businesses, closing places of worship, or shutting down the freedom of the press and the right to bear arms).

Lawmakers and voters are clearly willing to curb governors’ overreach, especially after the coronavirus pandemic. With this legislation, Virginia lawmakers can catch up with their peers in other states that have already taken steps to restrict executive power.

Equal governance, checks and balances, and the decentralization of power are fundamental tenets of American democracy. Yet these fundamentals have been absent in Virginia since the pandemic.

Fortunately, legislators in the Old Dominion are beginning to oppose the excessive power of governors by reasserting their rightful place as a much-needed check on the executive.

The following documents provide more information on executive power in a state of emergency.

Testimony before the Georgia House Judiciary Committee, Scoggins Subcommittee, on Bill 358, Restoring the Role of the State Legislature in Emergency Management

Testimony before the Georgia House Judiciary Committee regarding legislative and executive power in a state of emergency.

Andrew Cuomo is just a governor, not a god

Cuomo released several statements in an effort to assuage the backlash and frustration of New Yorkers and Albany lawmakers to no avail.

Governors, Not Gods – A Heartland Institute Webinar

The Heartland Institute hosted a webinar on August 27, 2020 for state legislators to discuss how they can check governors, who wield seemingly unlimited powers in the wake of COVID-19. For many months, Americans have been hated by out-of-control governors who imposed draconian shutdowns that decimated small businesses and people’s livelihoods. For example, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been roundly criticized for his heavy-handed and ineffective response to the coronavirus outbreak in New York, which has caused significant backlash. Cuomo has also tried to cover up his disastrous policy of forcing elderly COVID-19 patients back into nursing homes, where they are spreading deadly diseases like wildfire among New York’s most vulnerable. As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, now is the time to start exploring the control of dictatorial governors and restoring power where it rightfully belongs: with us the people, not me the governor.


Nothing in this Research and commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation and does not necessarily represent the views of the Heartland Institute. For more information on this and other topics, visit the Budget and tax news website, The Heartland Institute websiteand PolicyBotHeartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; organize an event in your state; or send you additional information on a subject. Do not hesitate to contact us if we can help you! If you have any questions or comments, contact Heartland’s Government Relations Department at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.

Norman D. Briggs