Virginia House Committee Kills Senate Bill to Limit Public Health Emergency Orders


The Virginia House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions tabled a Senate bill on Thursday, which called for the limitation of public health emergency orders by the Virginia Health Commissioner.

Sponsored by Sen. Steve Newman (R-Bedford), Senate Bill 5025 was tabled by a vote of 13-Y 9-N along party lines. 

The bill, which unanimously passed the Senate last week, would cap emergency public health orders from the state health commissioner at 30 days and require the Board of Health to meet and decide whether to approve the order, extending it for another 30 days.

Under the bill, the board could continue that process for an 18-month period from the effective date of the order or regulation.

Newman argued that the emergency authority to adopt public health orders and regulations is already vested with the board and only given to the health commissioner when the body is not meeting, which has been the case so far throughout the pandemic.

A large part of the opposition during the Committee meeting came from the governor’s office. Rita Davis, legal counsel to Governor Ralph Northam, testified against the bill stating multiple reasons why the legislation was both practically and legally problematic.

Davis’s argument was that the bill actually gives the Board of Health authority to approve the governor’s executive actions because the eight orders issued by Northam so far during COVID-19 have been in conjunction with the health commissioner.

Davis said that the coordinated effort was necessary for several reasons. She argued that because the executive order pertained to COVID, the governor needed expertise from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the health commissioner; and because the orders related to restrictions for businesses, any action must have incorporated VDH’s regulatory authority, among other reasons.

The only committee member to speak while the bill was under consideration was Del. Mark Levine (D-Fairfax County) who questioned the practicality of requiring the board of health to meet just to extend orders from the health commissioner “that everyone agrees should be continued.” 

On Friday, Newman took to his Facebook page to voice displeasure with the decision.

“The Governor seems to be very frightened of ANY outside input on his emergency Executive Orders…even outside input that is designed in current law,” Newman wrote. “As I’ve said before, it is definitely EASIER to govern on your own…it’s much more difficult to ensure you get your way when outside opinions get involved.”

Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke County), a co-patron on the bill, issued a brief statement on Twitter on the tabling of the bill. 

 “Disappointed by the partisan defeat in VA House,” Suetterlein wrote. “Looking forward to renewing the effort in 2021.”

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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Martin Kraft. CC BY-SA 3.0.



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