Governor Rescinds State Authority For Greater Local COVID Restrictions … So, Now What?

During the Governor’s press conference on March 9, he noted new Executive Orders, relaxing many of the statewide capacity and activity limitations in response to the coronavirus pandemic. A provision in one Order explicitly withdraws State authority for counties to retain stronger restrictions, apparently leaving counties to rely on their own local processes… though the Governor urged county leaders to “get in line.”  The legal effects are… unclear.

From a release sent to county leaders the day of the press conference:

  1. Certain Businesses and Facilities and Generally Requiring Use of Face Coverings
  • Occupancy limitations are lifted for the following facilities:
    • Religious facilities, retail establishments, personal services, indoor recreation, bars and restaurants, fitness centers, gaming and racing facilities
  • 50% occupancy limitations are in effect for Convention and Banquet Facilities, indoor and outdoor venues
  • Food service establishments shall not serve customers who are not seated
  • Removes provision that authorizes political subdivisions to adopt stricter measures than the State
  • Updated Order
  1. Relating to Various Health Care Matters
  1. Extending Certain Licenses, Permits, Registrations, and Other Governmental Authorizations and Authorizing Suspension of Legal Time Requirements
  • Order applies to all licenses, permits, registrations, and other authorizations (covered authorizations) issued in Maryland that will expire prior to June 30, 2021
    • Expiration date of covered authorizations is extended to June 30, 2021
  • Allows for the exclusion of an authorization on request of State or Local government provided public notice is given
  • Units of State or Local government may no longer suspend the effects of any legal or procedural deadline or other time of act or event pursuant to a rule, statute, or regulation
    • Those suspensions that are currently in effect as of 3/9/21 shall remain in effect until the unit head elects to end it or June 30, 2021
    • No new suspensions may be made
  • Statutorily required meetings or hearings can be held virtually as long as notice is given that satisfies any notice requirements
  • Updated Order

The specific language of the revised Executive Order (listed first above) is not fully clear in its effect. On the surface, it appears to withdraw (effective March 12) the State’s emergency authority granted to counties to impose local restrictions that go beyond the statewide levels. However, the Governor’s comments when answering a media question, as well as a spokesperson’s follow-up, suggest that does not necessarily mean that all local restrictions will be voided. Instead, counties must rely on their own local authority to impose such limitations.

For a still-developing discussion of this topic, see social media comments and conversation by Baltimore Sun reporter Bryn Stole:

Video of the March 9 press conference is available on the Governor’s facebook page.

A follow-up communication from the Governor’s office on March 10 has indicated:

Counties and municipalities have established and used their own emergency powers throughout the pandemic. As the governor stated today, jurisdictions may enact their own guidelines based on local authorities. Those authorities are unaffected by today’s order.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties