National Debate on Health-Triggered “Shutdown Powers” Continues

State legislatures are debating a variety of proposals designed to clarify or curtail the government’s ability to issue “shutdown orders” and similar declarations under their public health emergency powers.

With the COVID-19 health pandemic still undermining much economic activity, many state legislatures are grappling with the policy behind many governmental actions taken to protect public health. Advocates for reduced governmental authority city business failures as arguments for lesser “emergency powers” that could lead to, among other things, orders for certain businesses to close in the name of public health.

From coverage in Route Fifty:

In principle, these powers allow officials to respond quickly to threats, guided by expert input. But, civil libertarians warn, public health authority sometimes infringes on individual rights. And it can be subject to abuse.

When Covid-19 lockdowns began in March 2020, governors and local officials issued public health orders intended to combat the spread of the virus. Many invoked emergency powers designed to last for a few days or weeks — not for a months-long pandemic. Issues like mask-wearing soon became polarizing, and while prominent Democrats called for stringent public health measures, many Republicans, including then-President Donald Trump, questioned the science and law underpinning certain policies.

In Maryland, one such proposal was introduced during the 2021 session, but did not advance in the General Assembly. HB 17, introduced by Delegate Cox, would have curtailed the Maryland governor’s executive authority, and placed much more responsibility of longer term emergency actions in the hands of the General Assembly.

Read the full national coverage on the Route Fifty website.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties