Only 22 percent of ventilators in Virginia hospitals were in use as of Wednesday. Fifty-two percent of ICU beds were available, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. Only 1,003 potential COVID-19 patients were currently hospitalized. However, Governor Ralph Northam’s executive orders surrounding social distancing and mask wearing remain in effect.
Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) said that emergency powers in Virginia’s law were meant to be used for a limited time — one day, or up to a week for a really serious disaster like a hurricane. “Nobody foresaw that the Governor would take those broad emergency powers that are dictated in the Virginia Constitution and then basically make them perpetual,” Miyares said.
“A lot of this is [due to] the fact that we the Republican Party in Richmond is the minority party.” Miyares said Republicans in both chambers of the General Assembly tried to propose laws that would limit Northam’s power, but Democrats wouldn’t allow the proposals out of committee.
“What happens when you have one-party rule in Richmond is there is nobody in a position that can challenge [Northam] because the Governor has the majority in both the House and the Senate.”
“This is not a left-versus-right issue nearly as much as the General Assembly needs to step up and do its job as a co-equal branch of government to this governor,” Miyares said. “The Speaker of the House and the Democratic Majority Leader have no interest in trying to curtail the governor’s powers, because, think about it: then accountability starts lying with them. It’s much easier to say, ‘Oh well, this is the governor’s decision, we don’t have any influence on it.'”
Miyares said that sets a bad precedent for the balance of power of Virginia government in the future. He warned of other unintended consequences of the executive orders including increased risk of depression, addiction, and an unequal harm to minority schoolchildren.
“Two-thirds of all new jobs in America are created by small business owners. They are the economic engine of this country, that’s the American entrepreneur. And nobody is talking about them as victims. They are victims.” Miyares added, “A lot of them take out second mortgages on their homes so they can pursue their dream and open up their retail shop or their restaurant and that’s getting wiped out.” Miyares said, “A lot of it is because the government has shut everything down and they’re having to lay people off.”
Virginia Attorney General candidate Chuck Smith said, “They don’t believe the laws apply to them. They believe the Constitution is non-existent. They believe that the Virginia Code trumps the Constitution, not just the First Amendment or the Second Amendment, but the whole Constitution. And I think, whatever the issue is, Governor Northam feels that he has power, and he exercises that power either by executive order or [in the General Assembly.]”
Smith said the problem didn’t start with COVID-19. “You recall when [Northam] called a statewide emergency against a peaceful Second Amendment rally, he had unlimited power to suspend the provisions of the Second Amendment, to suspend the Constitution, for the purpose of, I guess, determining when Virginia citizens could bear arms. So these are the types of things we’ve seen from this governor, and we’ve seen no pushback from the attorney general.”
Smith and Miyares said that the key to fixing the problem is for Republicans to retake control of Virginia’s government.
“At the end of the day, we have a Governor who genuinely believes that he is above the law and that he takes action not just with these masks, but closing our schools, closing our businesses,” Smith said. “Those are things that need to be challenged.”
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