Special Bulletin: State Legislators in the COVID-19 Crisis
State Legislators’ Article V Caucus
March 24, 2020
The regular monthly newsletter will be sent out as scheduled on April 1.
State Legislators Have a Vital Role During the COVID-19 Crisis
A Letter to State Legislators
No, you can’t make it go away, but at this critical time in our nation’s history you can bless the people you serve by preserving the special balance of government powers that secures the rights of those people. We call it Federalism. It is the unique blend of limited government and the Rule of Law embodied in our constitutions (state and federal), and the clear directive found in the Tenth Amendment that recognizes states possess more constitutional power and authority than the Federal Government to deal with emergencies.
Rule of Law
We are a nation where the rulers are to be limited by the law, rather than the law be limited by the rulers. It is most critical that this principle of the Rule of Law be scrupulously guarded in times of emergency.
The States possess the authority to independently deal with the challenges of this crisis. It is the States who can strategically determine what is best for the citizens in their state. This cannot be turned over to a one-size-fits-all Federal solution. We must insist our governors assert their independent authority, within the constraints of the emergency powers granted to them by the laws we, the 50 state legislatures, have established.
So far Congress and the President have honored this special balance. I trust they will continue to understand the limits of the Federal government’s authority in this crisis. If that were to change it could set our nation on a path which may destroy not only this fundamental principal of our government, but, in the long term, jeopardize the fundamental rights of our citizens. We must also guard against any additional Federal controls that may come with bailout funds.
This letter was sent to you by the State Legislators’ Article V Caucus because we are dedicated to the principles of federalism which are woven into our Constitution. Article V is a clear example of this balance of power between the national and state governments, but it is also found in the enumerated, limited authority of Congress in Article I and the final words with which our Founders left us in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.
Never forget, state legislatures make the laws that the governors must execute, and the President is limited to the enumerated powers in the Constitution. In many ways our governors have more authority in times of emergency than the President, but only as the laws in their state dictate.
At this critical time, legislators must activate all of the resources they have to help get our nation through this difficult time. You are on the front lines of ensuring the safety and the rights of our citizens.
This is not just a theoretical structure of governance. It is the practical reality that balances the responsibilities and authority of government to preserve our freedoms and make our governments work most efficiently. It is also essential to keep all of this within the perspective of its economic impact. The consequences of destroying our economic productivity will have far reaching consequences which should never be ignored.
Assistance, not Coercion
In times of emergency it is tempting to let the Federal government take over, but this would be a dangerous precedent. Each state has unique needs and needs unique answers. Hold your governor accountable to follow the laws you have established to manage emergencies. Resist any Federal over-reach.
Some have speculated that the President could invoke the Stafford Act, or other Federal laws and regulations to take unilateral action in restricting the rights of all U.S. citizens. This should not happen. The President can assist states and their governors, but it must be in a role of assistance, not coercion. As legislators we must be the conscience of the nation, holding our governors and their departments to the letters of the emergency laws we have established for these limited times of emergency.
Please be diligent in following the policies that are developing daily in this crisis. Keep an eye on local authorities and jurisdictions that may arbitrarily take actions against individuals and local businesses without legal authorization. If the laws of your state do not give them authority, hold them accountable. Your office as a state legislator has granted you a unique position of respect and influence. Use it wisely and carefully for the good of your people.
I am grateful for all of the dedicated, hard working men and women in the legislatures of our 50 States. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and become the salt and light our Nation needs to get through these challenging days.
May God bless you and your family in this difficult time and may God grant us all the strength and fortitude we need to fulfill our duty for such a time as this.
former Colorado State Senator
co-chair of the State Legislators’ Article V Caucus