California’s State of Emergency Is Hurting, Not Helping: Republican Lawmakers

California’s State of Emergency Is Hurting, Not Helping: Republican Lawmakers
The California State flag flies outside City Hall, in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 27, 2017. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images)
Vanessa Serna

With a recent failed effort to end California’s state of emergency, Republican lawmakers are arguing that extending the order is unjustified and will hurt people’s livelihoods at a time when most COVID-19-related mandates enacted without the state legislature’s approval are waning.

“Regrettably, my SCR 5 [Senate Concurrent Resolution 5] to end the State of Emergency failed to pass [on March 15],” Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) wrote on Twitter. “The Democrat majority is content to abdicate their responsibilities to the governor. The state of emergency will continue, as will the governor’s power to close schools and shut down businesses.”

Since March 4, 2020, the state of emergency has granted the governor authority to overstep all state lawmakers, with the ability to “make, amend, and rescind” laws, according to the California Emergency Services Act.

“The governor has slowly begun to peel back mandates, indicating that the need for his emergency power is no longer necessary,” Melendez said at the March 15 hearing. “Continued lockdowns and the destruction of small businesses is not the answer to solving the spread of COVID-19.”

State Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clara) also echoed his support for ending the state of emergency and restoring California's balance of power, claiming that the governor didn't handle the pandemic correctly.

“We need to fix the things that went wrong because a lot of people paid dearly with their lives, with their loss of businesses, [and] with their mental health issues,” he said.

Opponents of the proposal said the state of emergency should remain, in consideration of the uncertain state of public health.

Brian Rice, president of California Professional Firefighters, a union representing 30,000 firefighters and paramedics in the state, said health services are still impacted by COVID-19 as the virus keeps mutating.

“We’re not ready yet,” Rice said at the hearing. “My biggest concern would be for Californians. Are we able to give the type of care we need to give?”

Committee Chairman Bill Dodd (D-Napa) applauded Newsom’s response to the pandemic that was made possible by his emergency powers.

“I think the governor got it right,” Dodd said. “The existing state of emergency … is absolutely important to ensure that the state can quickly and efficiently continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and be prepared for possible future variants and surges.”

However, Melendez argued that the idea that resources will be unavailable without the state of emergency if another surge occurs is false, especially as 29 other states have removed their states of emergency.

“The opposition is trying to present this as though we will lose all the funding and the resources we might need in the future if another surge takes place, but that is simply not the case, and I think that’s a fear-mongering tactic that has apparently worked well,” she said.

Melendez added that the “one size fits all” approach the state is taking to address the COVID-19 pandemic is unnecessary, as some areas experience higher COVID-19 numbers than others.

“Why not allow local communities—if they have a surge [or] if they are experiencing difficulty in their capacity in hospitals or other services—to declare a state of emergency, and then the state can step in and help?” she said.

Since Newsom declared a state of emergency in March 2020, he has issued 70 COVID-19 related executive orders, with 10 more non-COVID-related orders directed toward statewide wildfires, drought, and climate change.

On Feb. 25, Newsom lifted 19 executive order provisions with more set to expire on March 31 and June 30. The provisions still in effect are to maintain vaccination and testing operations and adequate hospital capacity.

Melendez and Assemblymen Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) and James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) have tried multiple times to rescind the state of emergency through various failed legislation attempts that would have allowed a vote to terminate the proclamation.

Despite failing to move forward on March 15, SCR 5 can still be considered at a later committee meeting.