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MI Senate approves Unlock Michigan petition, making way for repeal of governor's emergency power

protestors in front of the capitol building in lansing, michigan
Abigail Censky

Updated July 15 at 1:30 p.m.

The Republican-controlled Michigan Senate has approved a petition initiative to repeal the emergency powers law used by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the earliest months of the COVID-19 crisis. The initiative cannot be vetoed by Whitmer. The initiative now goes to the state House, which is expected to approve it next week. 

Gongwer News reported that the vote was along strict party lines, 20-15, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats present voting no.

The petition aims to repeal the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945, which Whitmer used to keep Michigan under a state of emergency when the state was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. 

Republican Senator Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) said that law allowed the governor to ignore the wishes of the legislative branch as she enacted COVID restrictions.

“We weren’t involved, so all of these ridiculous crash-and-burn policies that the governor crafted during this pandemic did not involve the Legislature so that we would have an opportunity to weigh in,” he said.

If repealed, the governor would have to get the Legislature’s permission after 28 days to extend emergency orders.

Democratic Senator Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) said the initiative is simply a political jab at Whitmer and would be too restrictive on a governor’s ability to manage a crisis.

“And by removing these powers, we would be telling the people of Michigan: You have to wait. I know there’s an emergency, but you have to wait,” she said. “I can’t in good conscience put the lives of Michiganders at risk.”

In the unlikely event it is not adopted by the House, it would go to the ballot for voter approval. In the meantime, a follow-up petition campaign is getting ready to challenge the power to issue public health orders like the ones the Whitmer administration relied on in the later days of the COVID-19 crisis.

Updated July 13 at 5:31 p.m.

The Board of State Canvassers has certified Unlock Michigan gathered enough signatures of registered voters. The initiative would scrap a 1945 law that Whitmer used to issue COVID-19 emergency orders.

The law was also invalidated by the state Supreme Court, but Fred Wzolek of Unlock Michigan says now Republican majorities in the House and Senate can have their say.

“Next up is a final vote in the Legislature, both the House and the Senate, in the next couple of weeks, and then Michigan will be unlocked for good.”

The Legislature is expected to approve it with no opportunity for the governor to veto the measure.

The state Supreme Court already invalidated that act. But that’s not enough for the Unlock Michigan campaign. Wzolek says that court decision should be backed up by changing the language of the law.

“I believe that bad ideas never really die in Lansing, they just take naps. And this one could wake back up.”

Wzoleck says the campaign is launching a new effort to curtail the state health department’s power to issue emergency orders.

“Once we sort of closed the door of the emergency-powers-of- the-governor act, the governor started governing by decree through the public health act, issuing the shutdown orders that way. So we now need to go amend that act to put the Legislature in the driver’s seat on that as well.”

The new initiative would end emergency public health orders after 28 days unless approved by the Legislature.

Original Post, July 13, 2020, at 12:36 p.m.

Forced by a court order, a state board has certified a petition drive to repeal a Michigan law that was used to set major restrictions during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision means the Republican-controlled Legislature can kill the law without intervention by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Lawmakers could also put it on the 2022 statewide ballot for voters to decide. Action in the Capitol appears to be the likely step.

A group called Unlock Michigan met the 340,000-signature threshold. The Board of State Canvassers certified the effort, 3-0, Tuesday after deadlocking 2-2 along partisan lines in April.

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The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
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