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Gov. Gavin Newsom lost the first round in a battle over the extent of his powers during a state of emergency.

Superior Court Judge Sarah Heckman ruled in November that the governor does not have the authority under the California Emergency Services Act to make new laws or amend existing laws.

“The California Constitution does not grant the governor the power to exercise those functions that have been given to the Legislature,” Heckman wrote.

The ruling followed a trial in a lawsuit brought by Assembly Members Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, and James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, who sought the court’s intervention to stop what they said was the governor’s overreach of power. In the months following the declaration of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsom issued more than 50 executive orders that changed California law, including an order requiring counties to mail ballots to all voters and meet other requirements for the November election.

During an emergency, the governor is permitted to suspend specific laws, but not to amend laws or create new laws, the court said.

Kiley and Gallagher said they were pleased with the court’s ruling.

“It shows that our system of government is still intact; that an emergency didn’t get rid of our republic; that even in an emergency, the right of the people to be represented by their elected representatives, and their elected representatives to make law, and not revert to a dictatorship where one person makes those decisions for everyone,” Gallagher said.

The court issued an injunction prohibiting the governor from “exercising any power under the California Emergency Services Act which amends, alters or changes existing statutory law or makes new statutory law or legislative policy.”
The governor is expected to appeal the ruling.

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