To ensure continuous government operations in the wake of a natural disaster, voters should approve Senate Joint Resolution 8200.
The state Constitution already grants emergency powers to state and local governments in the event of an enemy attack. This amendment would expand the provision to include “catastrophic incidents,” such as earthquakes, tsunamis or pandemics.
In such extreme situations, the measure would empower lawmakers to move the state capitol or county seats, if needed, to fill vacant positions and quickly pass laws to keep the government running. Legislators overwhelmingly approved the measure last session, with 37 senators and 91 representatives voting to send the resolution to voters and only 11 senators and seven representatives opposed.
Critics warn that the language is too broad, leaving open the possibility for abuse. They argue that more specifics are needed to understand exactly what might constitutes a “catastrophic incident” and how government might use its emergency powers. But these definitions are clearly laid out in state emergency management statutes, which define a catastrophic incident as “any natural or human-caused incident, including terrorism and enemy attack, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.” State law specifically excludes from the definition of catastrophic incidents events resulting from people exercising their rights to freedom of speech and peaceable assembly, which should assuage critics’ fears.
While it is always advisable to be cautious when amending the constitution, in this case the rationale is clear.
Vote “approved” on SJR 8200.