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GOP-led committee looks to limit emergency executive powers

The exterior of the Michigan Capitol building
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
The state Capitol

A Republican-led state House committee held its first hearing Wednesday on bills to rein in executive branch crisis management powers, including the ability to issue sweeping emergency orders like the ones used by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to address the COVID-19 crisis.

Many of the bills before the House Oversight Committee would require the governor or state agencies to get legislative approval to continue emergency orders after 28 days.

“It’s imperative that state government is held accountable through their elected representatives serving ‘we the people,’” said Representative Julie Alexander (R-Hanover), one of the sponsors. “The voters elect the legislators to make laws and oversee the agencies that enforce these laws.”

GOP lawmakers complained that the Whitmer administration stretched past the limits of her authority during the pandemic, and even won a court battle challenging her use of emergency powers.

Representative Steve Johnson (R-Wayland) chairs the oversight committee. He said the bills would force the governor to work with the Legislature after the early days of a crisis where emergency powers are invoked.

“The governor can’t just keep renewing it,” said Johnson. “But that’s allowed when you just give this power away without any sort of timeline, no constraints.”

Republicans say the bills would also clean up provisions that are outdated, redundant with other laws, never or seldom used, or just too sweeping.
The bills would apply not just to public health emergencies, but also to environmental disasters or public safety dangers.

But Representative Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township) said she’s not buying the argument the bills will compel cooperation between the executive branch and the Legislature.

“I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t look like 30 Republican bills removing executive powers seems like a partnership,” she said.

And Whitmer will have the final word if the Legislature sends the bills to her desk since she would decide whether to sign or veto them.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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