Mapping Emergency Suspension Powers

Together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Public Health Management Corporation, the Policy Surveillance Program recently released a new map addressing Emergency Powers laws.

Emergencies might involve dangers to public health, such as an outbreak of the flu; natural disasters, such as floods or earthquakes; or threats to security, such as acts of terror. In 41 states and the District of Columbia, governors are explicitly permitted to suspend laws that would interfere with an efficient, effective response to an emergency. Some states also permit governors to amend laws or create new ones during emergencies.

This new map covers laws granting broad powers to governors to manage emergencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

PHLR spoke with the researchers, Kelly Thompson, JD, Law and Policy Manager at the National Nurse-Led Care Consortium, an affiliate of Public Health Management Corporation, and Nick Anderson, JD, ORISE Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to discuss their work.

Read on for the full interview!

PHLR: What are emergency powers laws? What do they address?

Nick Anderson: Emergency powers laws come into effect during an emergency, as their name implies. They grant powers that would not normally be given; in this case specifically, powers granted to governors during an emergency.

Kelly Thompson: Emergency powers, in general, apply more broadly than the scope of this particular dataset. Sometimes they specifically apply during an emergency, whereas others relate to preparing for an emergency and properly managing resources before an actual emergency occurs. For example, state laws often grant various powers to governors to garner resources and dispatch those resources when an emergency arises.

Emergency powers can ultimately influence legal infrastructure by authorizing changes in extension of law, creation of new laws, and things of that nature. Emergency powers also can be utilized to modify financial structures and other areas of governance that are not specific to changing law.

PHLR: What motivated your team to research emergency powers laws?

KT: This dataset stems from a large CDC national project. We wanted to identify laws that directly relate to, and potentially hinder, emergency responses. We examined state laws that control the powers of governors, and how and whether they provide governors the flexibility to modify existing laws or create new rules and regulations in order to effectively respond to any type of emergency.

Essentially, we studied the ability of governors to take the reins during an emergency as it relates to legal infrastructure.

PHLR: Why is this topic important generally?

KT: Because it demonstrates the relatively robust powers that governors have during emergencies, which are vital to successful emergency management. Sometimes there are existing laws that operate well in normal circumstances, but create unnecessary barriers during emergencies that may limit a response. Granting governors the emergency power to temporarily modify or suspend the application of such existing laws allows for more rapid and efficient response to any emergency. Overall, it provides a more efficient way to manage an emergency from the top down.

PHLR: What is included in the Emergency Powers dataset on LawAtlas.org?

NA: We focused specifically on the authority granted to governors to change legal infrastructure during or immediately prior to an actual emergency event. We looked at whether governors can suspend or nullify laws, or create new laws. For purposes of this dataset, “laws” includes statutes, rules, regulations and procedures.

US states with emergency powers laws

States with Emergency Powers laws, via LawAtlas.org

PHLR: How can this information be useful?

KT: It is useful because existing laws can sometimes hinder response during an emergency, and this information provides an avenue for existing laws to basically be put on hold. It is also useful for lawmakers and policymakers who are interested in seeing how other states have handled these types of issues. During our research, we noticed some variation across states and how they handled these situations, which gave us the opportunity to make informative comparisons.

Visit http://lawatlas.org/datasets/emergency-powers to interact with the data and learn more about Emergency Suspension Powers in the United States.

Initial research, collection of laws, and coding protocols were conducted by Akshara Menon, JD, MPH, Public Health Analyst, Carter Consulting, Inc., with the Public Health Law Program, Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research, data analysis, and editorial assistance were provided by Gregory Sunshine, JD, Public Health Analyst, Carter Consulting, Inc., and Matthew Penn, JD, MLIS, Director, both with the Public Health Law Program, Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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