Lawmakers Finally Begin to Question Governor’s Executive Powers
A recent survey, conducted by researchers from Harvard and other universities, found that Governor Gavin Newsom’s approval rating had fallen significantly due to the COVID-19 crisis. As Newsom’s actions provoke increasing opposition from Californians, lawmakers are finally beginning to ask tough questions and demand legislative oversight.
State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Granite Bay), a former teacher and state prosecutor who serves as vice chair of the Assembly Education Committee, has questioned Newsom’s actions from various angles.
One of Kiley’s most effective lines of criticism has been his focus on Newsom’s extensive use of executive orders, which often seem to override laws enacted by the Legislature.
In a report recently released by his office, Kiley documents Newsom’s 46 executive orders, which have acted to change 400 California laws.
The laws changed by Newsom’s executive orders range the gamut from criminal laws to business laws to education laws to election laws.
For example, the Sex Offender Registration Act requires that sex offenders appear in person and provide signature, fingerprints, and photograph to authorities. Newsom’s Executive Order N-63-20 suspended those requirements for 60 days.
Also, current law permits changes in the admissions criteria to a California State University campus to become effective only after public hearings and only after the CSU chancellor approves and six months to a year elapses after that approval. Newsom’s Executive Order N-52-20 waives that requirement until mid-2021.
In the area of elections, Kiley and Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) filed a lawsuit challenging the governor’s executive order mandating what counties must do in order to proceed with the November election. The two lawmakers argue that the governor’s action illegally supplanted the Legislature’s authority to make such changes to existing law. The lawsuit is ongoing.
With Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon suspending the Assembly from convening until July 27, Kiley told the California Globe, “The governor is running the state all by himself.” Without the Legislature, he noted, “It results in no public input, no oversight, and worse policy—including matters of public health that affect all 40 million Californians.”
Because of his background as a teacher, Kiley has been especially critical of Newsom’s actions on the issue of school reopenings in California.
When Newsom recently issued an executive order that would prevent the reopening of in-person schooling for children in most counties in the state, Kiley said, “rather than adopting a balanced approach that provides California families options for classroom-based and home-based learning, the Governor is shutting down the vast majority of schools across the state.”
“Today’s decision elevates the appearance of safety over actual student safety, “ Kiley pointed out, since a “growing body of evidence suggests school closures do little to flatten the epidemic curve, while an abundance of evidence shows they are a calamity for kids.”
Indeed, the most recent late-July statement from the Centers for Disease Control says: “The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms. Death rates among school-aged children are much lower than among adults. At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant. Further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities.”
In light of the CDC’s statement, which calls into question the scientific basis of Newsom’s order, Kiley has called for the Assembly to convene a public hearing to discuss “how we can safely get students back into the classroom as soon as possible.”
Dan Walters, the dean of California Capitol columnists, observed that when legislators gave governors the ability to declare emergencies, “They probably didn’t envision a governor assuming almost dictatorial power over the social and economic lives of every Californian for the indefinite future, as Gavin Newsom did when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the state.”
Many Californians who are uncomfortable and unhappy with Newsom’s imperial style of governing welcome some lawmakers finally beginning to exercise the Legislature’s oversight of the Governor’s actions.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute.