Executive orders: from droughts to blizzards with some opiates in between

Last month, we gave ourselves a new tool to keep an ongoing watch on what executive orders governors are signing. It’s an interactive map that we created (with the help of our son, Ben Greene), with links to executive orders for all the states. (Well, almost. We couldn’t find good links for Kentucky or West Virginia.) We’ve shared the map with our readers and you can find it in our Resources section. And now, we’re planning to add a regular feature to the B&G Report on our website to help readers keep track of some of the more interesting and important of these orders — many of which often go ignored by the public and the press.


Right now, even as we’re watching an alarming blizzard outside our window in Manhattan, weather emergencies are getting lots of ink out of governors’ pens. At least two governors – in New Jersey and Virginia – signed executive orders yesterday declaring states of emergency due to the storm which was projected to drop loads of snow through the Northeast, stretching south to Virginia. We expect more executive orders to come from neighboring governors through the day.


Weather emergencies are the most common reason for governors to sign executive orders. In addition to the ones stemming from today’s storm, in February and early March, governors  signed orders relating to flooding (North Dakota), drought and/or wildfires (Oklahoma and Kansas) and snow or other severe weather (California, Missouri, Montana).


But proclamations related to weather are just the beginning. Executive orders are commonly used to address policy issues and improve management. We took a look at all of the links in the last few days and came up with the following observations.


A number of executive orders signed in the last month and a half established new task forces or study commissions. These included the “Grocery Tax Task Force” in Alabama, established on February 22 by Gov. Robert Bentley; the “Government Efficiency & Accountability Review (GEAR) Board, established by Delaware Gov. John C. Carney Jr., on February 16th; the Black Advisory Commission, set up on February 23rd by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and the Two-Generation Family Economic Security Commission and Pilot Program, created by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on March 9th.


A few dealt with new government positions or other management initiatives. One example is Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s March 8 executive order, which established a Homeland Security Advisor and created the Michigan Homeland Protection Board. That same day, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed an executive order “promoting open and transparent government through continued implementation of best practices and performance dashboards.”


Two executive orders appeared to directly address White House actions. As we mentioned in our February 13th post, Gov. Kate Brown in Oregon, signed an order on February 2, “Renewing Oregon’s commitment to protecting its immigrant, refugee and religious minority residents.” On February 23, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed an order affirming “the protection of students from discrimination based on sex, including gender identity or expression.”


Several Governors either reiterated their concern or joined the growing list of chief executives who have used executive orders to help combat substance abuse. On February 16, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker used an administrative order to “outline a plan to address the heroin and opioid epidemics and overdose related deaths.” On March 1, Gov. Hogan followed up on his January creation of an interagency heroin and opioid coordinating council by declared a “State of Emergency within the entire state of Maryland, “regarding the heroin, opioid and Fentanyl overdose Crises.”


A few other February and early March executive orders we found interesting:


  • An executive order signed by new Gov. Eric Holcomb in Indiana declaring and then extending a “disaster emergency” in East Chicago due to “certain lead conditions in a portion of East Chicago” and concerns about slightly elevated blood lead levels found in 18 children under the age of 8.

  • A series of executive orders in New York assigning special prosecutors to investigate and prosecute the deaths of civilians by law enforcement officers

  • An executive order appointing several retired justices to lead an “Independent Review of Security Issues” at the Delaware Correctional Facility, signed by Delaware Gov. Carney.

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