How much power does the governor have during the COVID-19 pandemic? | KOB 4

How much power does the governor have during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Joy Wang
Updated: March 25, 2020 06:28 AM
Created: March 24, 2020 09:57 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— When it comes to coronavirus orders, there’s some difference between ones that come down from the federal level versus the state level, but which ones hold more weight? Criticism from people on both ends of the political spectrum have said that the on the state level, the governor is doing too much or not enough.

UNM Law Professor Joshua Kastenberg said Gov. Lujan Grisham has not legally overstepped her boundaries and that more can be done.


“The legislature can declare an emergency and request to be placed in a special session or that the governor can declare an emergency and have the legislature placed in a special session,” Professor Kastenberg said. “They can rapidly pass laws that empower the governor to do certain things that help preserve the health of the people and the government of New Mexico. Those laws have to be short in duration. In other words, they can only exist until the crisis passes.”

If the federal government decides to roll back their COVID-19 restrictions next month, Kastenberg said the governor will still have power to continue to enforce restrictions.

“For the most part the governor can do what she feels is best in the interest of preserving the health and safety of New Mexico without regard to the president opening up the economy. That’s a political question. There are certain areas, and airline travel is one of them, that the governors can't touch,” he said.

Other areas the governor can’t touch include national highways and national labs. So far the governor hasn’t imposed a curfew, but it is within her power to do so. There is also more she can do when it comes to the medical field.

“Say there was a shortage of doctors. She could ask for the legislature to empower her for example, to call every person with an MD license, MD degree and state license—including those who are retired or nurses who are retired—and call them into state employment to assist in giving medical care to the people of New Mexico, so if there aren't enough doctors she could tap into the retiree pool and have them come in and work at the hospital,” Kastenberg said. "She could also do emergency contracts. Say there's a vacant hotel. Hotels are shut down and convert a vacant hotel to a medical facility. She would certainly have the authority to do that.”

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