PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Rhode Island will remain in a state of emergency after March 31 to remain eligible for federal aid, but Gov. Dan McKee will not be able to take other action based on this status from April, officials said Wednesday. .
State lawmakers have placed several restrictions on the governor’s emergency powers over the past year, amid growing criticism of the imbalance between the executive and the legislature as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on.
Last year, lawmakers voted to have executive orders issued by the governor expire after 180 days, unless the general assembly voted to renew them after that time. So last month, as the 180-day limit approached from a range of orders, they voted to let McKee extend various existing orders for another 45 days until March 31st.
But on Wednesday, McKee issued one executive order extension of the COVID-19 state of emergency longer than that – until 13 April. (The then Governor Gina Raimondo originally issued this order and declared a state of emergency more than two years ago, on March 9, 2020).
Larry Berman, a spokesman for House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, said McKee was within his power to act because last month’s legislation solution was worded in a way that left the governor with authority to hold the state of emergency in place.
However, the resolution prevents the governor from issuing additional orders based on the state of emergency once the 45-day extension is over, he said.
“So in other words, he can still continue to extend a state of emergency, but after March 31, he can no longer issue orders to deal with the disaster,” Berman said in an email.
Berman also indicated that legislators expect the governor to hold Rhode Island in a state of emergency even after April 13. “This action is important for the state to continue to receive certain federal benefits, and we expect that he will continue to do so beyond that date,” he said.
McKee spokeswoman Andrea Palagi offered a similar explanation.
“The General Assembly has not restricted the governor’s ability to declare or renew a state of emergency,” she said. “It put time constraints on some of his statutory powers to deal with these emergencies.”
Palagi said the “valuable” federal assistance that Rhode Island receives due to the ongoing state of emergency includes FEMA allowance for enhanced benefits of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, as well as for “non-assembly homes. “operations.
The ongoing COVID-19 state of emergency in Rhode Island contrasts with Massachusetts, where Governor Charlie Baker ended the state of emergency June last year.
McKee has allowed a number of executive orders related to the pandemic to expire in recent weeks, including the school mask mandate. Others are set to remain in place until March 31, including an order involving remote participation in public meetings and another involving nursing home staffing.
The number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily in Rhode Island has dropped by about 97% since the height of the omicron wave last winter, with seven-day average falling from over 5,000 new cases a day in early January to just 164 cases on Tuesday.