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Cooper urges N.C. leaders to help slow COVID-19 spread

Concerned by North Carolina’s rising COVID-19 metrics, Gov. Roy Cooper, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen and Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks penned a letter asking local elected leaders to consider additional enforcement measures in order to stop the spread of the virus.

“Now more than ever we need help with enforcement from our local partners to fight this raging pandemic,” Cooper said. “Taking steps now to protect our communities by enforcing safety precautions will help reduce transmission of the virus and save lives.”

The letter referenced a recent advisory from the North Carolina Department of Justice, which concluded that municipal governments could enforce local ordinances that establish civil penalties for violations of COVID-19 executive orders. “… The question has arisen whether cities and counties have the authority to enforce civil penalties for violations of the COVID-19 emergency orders, in light of a longstanding North Carolina common-law doctrine that prohibits localities from punishing conduct that is already punishable under state law,” William McKinney, general counsel for Cooper, wrote in the DOJ letter.

“I conclude that local ordinances that use civil remedies for violations of the Governor’s COVID-19 orders are valid and enforceable,” McKinney added. “The EMA (Emergency Management Act) is best read to enhance, not to restrict, the ordinary powers of city and county governments. Moreover, even if criminal prosecution were the exclusive remedy for violation of the Governor’s COVID-19 orders, municipalities could easily avoid any preclusion by enforcing ordinances that are more restrictive than the Governor’s orders.”