(The Center Square) – For the first time in the state’s history, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has exclusive powers under a public health emergency declaration that allow him to bypass some levels of local, state and federal government for the next 30 days.
“This declaration will greatly assist health and emergency management officials across Georgia by deploying all available resources for the mitigation and treatment of COVID-19,” Kemp said.
The need for states to make emergency declarations was most noted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Several declarations have been made during the opioid crisis.
The Georgia House and Senate on Monday voted to uphold Kemp’s executive order to invoke the declaration, which the governor has used to loosen commercial transportation regulations and grant temporary licenses to out-of-state medical professionals.
Kemp has suspended federal transportation rules that call for restricted hours for commercial vehicle operations and weight requirements. Those limitations may have made it harder for emergency personnel or supplies to get to Georgians.
Vehicles approved for the weight and travel exceptions will be granted special permits by the Georgia Department of Public Safety.
With the declaration, the governor also seize, sell, lend or use any public or private property to combat the health crisis.
For instance, Kemp could order the use of a private hotel to treat patients in case hospitals reach max capacity or set up medical bases for treatment in rural communities.
On Saturday, Kemp and emergency management and public health officials announced the construction of 20 quarantine spaces for residents who test positive for COVID-19 at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center campus in Monroe County.
"This is one of many measures that we're taking to prepare for any scenario," Kemp said.
According to Georgia law, the declaration cannot exceed 30 days unless the threat continues. In that case, Kemp can renew the order. However, there is a check and balance of power under the pre-existing law because the General Assembly could terminate the declaration with a resolution at any time.
Lawmakers, however, agreed to waive the requirement.
Kemp can renew the declaration without their approval in the event the health risk is too high before April 13, when lawmakers are scheduled to return to the state capitol in Atlanta.
“We didn't want to come across a situation where the governor would lose his emergency powers, and the Legislature would not be there to give them back to him,” Rep. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, said.
The Senate voted unanimously to approve the measure. Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-Tiger, was the lone member of the House to vote against it.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported 146 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, including one death.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. The disease has caused at least 91 deaths in the U.S. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.
Most people who have it develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually the elderly and those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.