Delegates challenge Governor
by Ron Gregory
Falling Waters – Two Republican legislators plan a challenge to Governor Jim Justice’s executive order method of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Delegates Larry D. Kump and Tom Bibby, both of Berkeley County, announced they will be pushing for legislation in response to the pandemic in the next legislative session.
Kump noted that, since his previous suggestion that grocery stores and other retailers provide their employees face masks when dealing with the public, Walmart now is implementing these health and safety procedures, as well as taking other steps to ensure the well being of their employees. He encouraged all other West Virginia retailers to do likewise.
Further, and in regard to the current West Virginia Governor’s broad executive orders about “stay at home” and mandatory closures, the delegates expressed concern about the possibility that these executive orders may violate the Bill of Rights in regard to the right of “assembly” and “association.”
While the West Virginia legislature currently is not in session, Kump and Bibby pledge to explore proposed changes to current West Virginia law to limit the Governor’s executive order authority.
“We suggest the consideration of more reasonable time limits on the scope and duration of executive orders, unless otherwise approved by a majority vote of the legislature,” they said in a statement.
Fellow Republican Governor Jim Justice has been broadly criticized by civil libertarians for “governing by executive order” as he has routinely issued such orders during the pandemic.
Most widely discussed have been his orders essentially eliminating the right to assemble. This has led to further conflict by Justice’s orders limiting the number of those who can assemble together. This forced the cancellation or changes in Easter Sunday services. Some congregations did manage to “meet” through electronic media but others were dissatisfied with that choice on what many consider the most sacred day of the Christian religion.
Justice has also banned all non-essential travel through executive order. This has led libertarians to call the order “basically house arrest.”
Some local officials have entered even more stringent orders than the governor, though. Whereas federal and state health officials ordered open retail stores to allow no more than five people per 10,000 square feet in their locations at a time, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department decreed that the number be two.
Speaking by phone from his home, Kump said he is “very disturbed” by what may be “the loss of basic rights granted in the constitution.” He said he also questions why Justice has not included legislative leaders “in making decisions or in his daily briefings to the public.”
Kump said, “you would think that some time in this process you might have seen Senate President Mitch Carmichael or one of the senators who are also doctors or House Speaker Roger Hanshaw at the front table. But you haven’t seen that.”
Kump and Bibby say they will be transparent in developing legislation to deal with the situation. “You’ll be hearing from us in the days ahead.”