Three years after the coronavirus outbreak prompted governments to take unprecedented action to contain the virus, the state of California and the federal government are on track to terminate their ongoing emergency declarations. It is about time.
Three years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, giving himself and his administration broad authority to bypass normal procedures, impose mandates and grant billions of dollars of no-bid contracts (including to his own campaign donors).
To be sure, the emergency powers yielded some positive outcomes, including making it easier for out-of-state health workers to work in California and waiving licensing requirements so pharmacists and pharmacy technicians could administer COVID vaccines.
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At the very least, they showed that many government restrictions aren’t really that necessary in the first place — and should prompt legislative changes accordingly.
But Newsom’s exercise of his emergency powers has also been quite controversial and even damaging. Businesses were destroyed, freedoms were severely curtailed, and government power expanded to the point of micromanaging how people went about their lives.
It remains unclear which exercises of power were actually justified to mitigate the pandemic, though the arguments for such powers certainly fell off long ago with the rollout of vaccines and therapeutics.
The California Legislature is there, ostensibly, to help grapple with complicated policy matters as representatives of their constituents. Alas, it was clear early on that the Newsom administration enjoyed the broad powers it assumed.
“Newsom has made statements that indicate his willingness to use the emergency to make permanent changes in California,” this editorial board noted in Dec. 2020. “He has suggested that COVID-19 is an ‘opportunity to reshape the way we do business and how we govern’ and spoken of using it to bring in a ‘new progressive era.’ That suggests that the concentration of unlimited power in the hands of one individual is an emergency in itself.”
Finally, in October of last year, Gov. Newsom announced the state of California would terminate its state of emergency on Feb. 28, 2023. On Jan. 31, the Newsom administration issued a statement affirming the decision.
Californians should welcome the news, as it means, finally, the proper balance of power will be restored with respect to COVID policy.
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Meanwhile, the Biden administration likewise announced it would allow federal emergency declarations related to COVID to expire in May.
Back in September 2022, President Biden told 60 Minutes “the pandemic is over,” but of course has used the cover of the emergency to try and ram through things he otherwise couldn’t get done.
This includes his attempt to unilaterally cancel student loan debt because of the pandemic which he himself said was “over.”
The Office of Management and Budget has explained the White House will allow the emergencies to remain in place for a bit longer because ending them abruptly would cause “chaos.”
Here’s to hoping the “chaos” excuse won’t stop them from allowing the declarations to end soon and that the federal government won’t try to pull any more stunts like the student loan termination scheme.