PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island governors have issued the third-most coronavirus-related executive orders nationwide since the pandemic began, but a closer examination tells a more complex story.
Throughout the pandemic, governors across the country have used executive orders to act quickly — but also unilaterally.
Target 12 took a closer look at the recent history of executive orders in Rhode Island, using data from the Office of the Governor’s website.
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From 2015 to 2019, former Gov. Gina Raimondo issued 47 total executive orders. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, that number jumped to 111. And so far this year, Raimondo and her successor, Gov. Dan McKee, have combined for 63.
In Rhode Island, however, state law requires any executive order to be renewed every 30 days — so the actual number of active coronavirus orders is only 20, according to a list provided by McKee’s office.
Common Cause Rhode Island executive director John Marion told Target 12 that passing a regular state law is the better way to make policy.
Marion said he thinks the state’s lawmakers have given the executive branch greater leeway because they’re members of the same party — if the legislative and executive branches weren’t both controlled by Democrats, he said, it might be a different story.
“These executive orders are largely the executive branch exercising legislative-like authority,” Marion said.
He gave the example of Kansas, where the legislature took away the power from the governor to issue executive order extensions — only state lawmakers can extend them now.
Marion said Raimondo and McKee, like other governors who have been similarly empowered by their legislatures, have welcomed the opportunity.
“If given a lot of power, governors are naturally going to try to use that to the fullest extent,” Marion said. “There’s a real potential downside, which is, our system is based on checks and balances.”
Marion pointed out that normal laws have to go through two chambers and public hearings in the legislature, whereas there’s no public process to vet and debate potential executive orders.
McKee didn’t yet sound ready to call it quits on issuing executive orders when he spoke with 12 News last week.
“We’re just going to do it based on what’s in the best interest of the state,” he said. “We’re going to continue to evaluate the emergency order, and the executive orders, we’ll take them one at a time.”
Colorado and Michigan are the top two states nationwide for coronavirus-related executive orders. Both also require such orders to be periodically renewed, and as Marion noted, both are also led by Democratic governors.