General Assembly Grants Kemp’s Public Health Emergency

Mar 16, 2020

The Georgia General Assembly has backed Gov. Brian Kemp’s declaration of a public health emergency for Georgia.

The move came during a special called session of the chambers and gives Kemp unprecedented, broad powers to assist health and emergency management officials with deploying resources for the “mitigation and treatment of COVID-19.”

In ratifying the joint resolution, legislators agreed give the governor a wide-range of powers to inclue ordering evacuations, seizing land, and suspending state business.

A public health emergency — as opposed to a state of emergency — gives the governor additional authority to compel “a health care facility to provide services or the use of its facility if such services or use are reasonable and necessary for emergency response.”  

“Someday generations to come — our children and grandchildren or great-grandchildren,” House Speaker David Ralston said to the chamber. “We will look back and say they did not allow political differences to be an obstacle to doing what they needed to do. And then because of what they did, there arose a stronger Georgia.”

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia reached 121 as of Monday. The Georgia Department of Public Health updates the numbers at noon each day.

Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), the Dean of the House as the longest-serving member of the body, served as the chaplain of the day and gave the prayer. 

“We are in uncertain times,” Smyre said. “This is a time for us to speak with one voice, to act with one heart.”

The session lasted more than seven hours because the two chambers disagreed over the time length for the declaration. The House wanted to limit the governor’s power to 30 days with the option of reconvening to ratify and extend the declaration of emergency powers.

The Senate, however, wanted to keep the resolution open-ended and give the governor the authority to continue making decisions regarding coronavirus, if needed,

In the end, the two chambers agreed that while the resolution will end on April 15, if for some reason, the General Assembly is unable to return, Kemp will have the power to continue the resolution.

“What this resolution does is recognize the seriousness of the COVID-19, coronavirus as it exists in our state, and authorizes the governor’s declaration so that we have all the necessary resources available to combat that,” House Majority Whip Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) said.

The General Assembly suspended its 2020 legislative session last week and only returned for Monday's one-day special session.