Viewpoint: Time to say goodbye to our ’emergency’
Delaware is now on its 29th modification of its State of Emergency related to COVID-19 which was first declared on March 12, 2020. This State of Emergency can only be declared or terminated by Gov. John Carney.
During the past 450 days of the COVID lockdown, our state has been in a gubernatorial sere the free market does not rule, and individuals are prevented from making personal choices.
Despite months and months of lockdown, dozens of studies now reveal that these mandates were an ineffective pandemic response and did not correlate with a lower COVID mortality rate, but did correlate with a higher unemployment rate.
According to Wallet Hub, Delaware is ranked 50th in economic recovery since the start of the pandemic. Unemployment claims are up 1,356% compared to this same week in 2019 – approximately four times the increase of the next largest jump in unemployment claims, leaving employers struggling to find workers to fill jobs.
While the jobs are plentiful, many parents are still prevented from getting back to work because their children are home from school. Not all of Delaware’s schools are open for full-time, in-person learning yet. Only seven states have a higher percentage of online or hybrid students.
Students have been kept home despite their unlikelihood to contract or spread the virus. For the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year, only 1,773 of Delaware’s 139,000 school children (less than 1.3% of total students) tested positive for the virus, and the rate of infected students was actually lower at private schools which held classes in person at a higher rate than public schools.
This time out of the classroom has set students back months, if not an entire year in their educations. Teachers have seen plummeting attendance and unparalleled failure rates throughout this year’s remote and hybrid learning. The state is simply throwing money at this issue, hoping students will manage to catch up. Approximately $124 million have gone to school districts and charter schools for an “accelerated learning program” – a vague plan for schools to create new ways to get their students back on track.
Delaware’s economic prospects continue to look bleak, even as COVID rates decrease at a steady rate. Infection rates are the lowest they have been in a year and the state appears to be on track to reaching its 70% vaccination goal by Independence Day.
This leads one to wonder why a State of Emergency is necessary at this point. New Jersey, New York, and Maryland have eliminated almost all restrictions and Pennsylvania lifted all restrictions on Memorial Day. Gov. Carney has refused to commit to any benchmarks or dates at which he will eliminate restrictions or mask mandates, leaving the duration of his State of Emergency a mystery.
Delaware Republican Rep. Richard Collins of Millsboro has pushed to limit Gov. Carney’s emergency powers, starting with House Bill 49, a proposal that would limit his orders to 30 days without approval by the General Assembly. After the failure of HB49, lawmakers may have been left questioning what power they have held over the past year, and they’re not alone.
For this year’s sessions, in at least half all states, Republicans and some Democrats have proposed limiting their governor’s emergency powers in some way, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Pennsylvania, voters were able to vote on their governor’s emergency powers and became first in the nation to curb their governor’s State of Emergency authority. On May 18, more than 2 million residents voted in the referendum which will now end a governor’s emergency disaster declaration after 21 days and to give lawmakers the sole authority to extend it or end it at any time with a simple majority vote. Even before the referendum, Pennsylvania’s governor had less power than Delaware’s – the legislature had the ability to end an emergency declaration with a two-thirds vote.
While legislative dealings in Delaware have continued, government transparency has been extremely limited as citizens were essentially shut out of participating in the legislative process. For more than 450 days, Legislative Hall remained closed to visitors and even now, after its reopening, only 25 visitors are permitted in each chamber and must register online in advance. Constituents are limited to sitting in the gallery and still may not meet with their representatives inside the building.
Gov. Carney’s overextended executive powers will have long lasting negative effects on Delaware’s economy. Now is the time to say goodbye to Gov. Carney’s state of emergency orders and for our legislators and the citizens of Delaware to demand our freedoms be restored. Let COVID-19 be a learning lesson of how quickly our freedoms can be taken when so much authority lies in the hands of a single individual.
Kathleen Rutherford serves as executive director of A Better Delaware, a non-partisan public policy and political advocacy organization that supports pro-growth, pro-jobs policies and greater transparency and accountability in state government.