More states are passing laws limiting authority to respond to public health emergencies

New data released today by the Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research on LawAtlas.org captures details of an emerging effort by states to limit executive authority to act in response to public health emergencies.

Legislators in nearly all US (46) have introduced bills in 2021 to limit governors’ or ‘ authority during the COVID-19 pandemic or other emergencies. According to the data, between January 1, 2021, and June 17, 2021, 11 of these bills were enacted into law and became effective.

“Laws that restrict the authority of governors and health agencies to act in times of emergency could significantly impact by limiting their ability to take actions necessary to respond to or mitigate the crisis,” said Katie Moran-McCabe, special projects manager at the Center for Public Health Law Research and lead researcher on this project.

States have taken a variety of approaches to curbing public health authority. As of June 17, 2021:

  • Eleven states have a law in effect that was passed since January 1, 2021, that limits state executive authority regarding public health orders.
  • Nine states limited both the then-governor’s authority and the authority of a state agency or official, with all those states limiting the scope of at least one type of order.
  • Five states limited the governor’s authority, the authority of a state agency or official, and the authority of a local agency or official

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