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Leonardo Angiulo: The Governor’s Authority to Issue a Travel Ban

Monday, February 11, 2013

 

As soon as major news outlets started their coverage of “Snowmageddon,” or if you prefer “Snowpocalypse,” I was trying to decide whether to snowboard at a local mountain or go somewhere farther North. That dream came to a crashing halt when the Governor issued Executive Order 543 banning motor vehicle travel in Massachusetts until further notice.

Like anything else, the travel ban was issued with certain exceptions. Public safety personnel, public utility workers and health care professionals remained free to go from place to place providing necessary services. In addition, people who are driving to or from work in private businesses like gas stations and hardware stores are not subject to the restrictions. I took a look at the exceptions and came to the opinion that there were no accommodations for those looking to take advantage of three feet of powder at the local Mountain.

Instead, I decided to investigate what authority the Governor had to stand between me and epic conditions on the slopes. During the course of my research, I learned I was not the only one to wonder the same thing. As it turns out, the Legislative Research Bureau asked the same question in 1980 and published a report of their findings. The answer was that the Governor has, in fact, significant authority to do so.

Within the body of Executive Order 543, the Governor cites Chapter 639 of the acts of 1950 as the basis for his issuance of restrictions. Starting on page 60 of the Legislative Research Bureau's report, the Civil Defense Act of 1950 is discussed at length and discusses how in times of emergency, including natural disasters, the Governor has the power to issue proclamations with the force of law.

Interestingly, and discussed beginning on page 64 of the 1980 report, the executive branch of the Massachusetts Government can do much more than just keep us off the Ski Mountains during states of emergency. In the appropriate circumstances, including attacks during war, incidents of civil disorder and certain industrial disputes threatening public health and safety, the Governor can take significant action. Significant action can even be things like seizing real and personal private property. This means people's homes, portions of their real estate, or vehicles can be taken by the Government. Consistent with Constitutional requirements, however, if any property is seized people must receive compensation.

When such action is taken, the Governor enforces his orders using various agencies of the executive branch. Some of those agencies we easily recognize are law enforcement divisions like the State Police, but there are other less commonly known like the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).

The penalty for disregarding executive orders are also specifically defined as up to one year imprisonment and a fine of not more than $500, or both. No matter how expensive lift tickets get, trying to get to the mountain in disregard of a travel ban will probably be even more costly in the long run. You might want to pour another cup of coffee and go sledding instead. 

 

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