When the Rhode Island General Assembly passed the fiscal year 2022 budget and Governor McKee signed it into law, the Emergency Powers of the Governor, under R.I.G.L. §30-15-9 were modified and restricted. Specifically, the General Assembly terminated all executive orders related to the “COVID-19” declaration of Emergency, issued by then-Governor Raimondo in March of 2020, with the exception of orders 20-6, 20-19, 20-37, 20-46 (as modified by 21-60), 20-72, 21-26, 21-67, and 21-68(g). Those orders were allowed to remain in place until September 1st, 2021 at the very latest unless the General Assembly approved, by concurrent resolution, any extensions. Any further orders related to the existing “COVID-19” state of emergency, which is still in effect, would have to be affirmatively approved by the General Assembly by concurrent resolution of both chambers. Additionally, for all future declarations of emergencies pursuant to R.I.G.L. §30-15-9, the Governor may take executive action consistent with the law that may remain in effect no longer than 180 days unless extended by the General Assembly by concurrent resolution.

Last week, Governor McKee sought to bypass the explicit language of the modified law by declaring a “new” emergency using the “delta variant” of the COVID-19 virus as justification, using almost identical reasons for the declaration as did then-Governor Raimondo when she issued her declaration in 2020. The Governor took this action so he could issue a new COVID-19-related executive order, 21-87, which took the choice away from parents of children attending public K-12 schools in Rhode Island about whether or not their children should wear masks while at school – a debate that has been at the heart of several hotly debated school committee meetings over the last several months. The Governor’s clear intent was to give himself, the schools and all those in favor of universal mask mandates at least 180 days before the General Assembly would have to authorize the order – a clear overreach of the Governor’s executive emergency authority.

Whether you believe a universal mask mandate in schools should or should not apply, one thing we all should agree upon is that the rule of law must be followed in all instances. I call on Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha, the State’s chief law enforcement officer, to review the Governor’s most recent executive orders to determine whether or not the Governor has complied with state law and if not, take immediate legal action seeking to restrain and enjoin the Governor from abusing the power of his Office. Silence by our Attorney General is not an option when you are the people’s lawyer and this issue is critical to thousands of Rhode Islanders to have resolved before our children go back to school. Partisan politics has no place in this debate. The law either allows the Governor’s actions or it does not allow them. It is time for the Attorney General to do his job and put the Law Above Politics!

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