Bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers repeal Whitmer’s emergency powers

Bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers repeal Whitmer’s emergency powers

The House and Senate voted to repeal the law giving the governor unilateral authority to impose emergency measures like public health restrictions.

A bipartisan majority of the Michigan House of Representatives voted Wednesday to repeal a 76-year-old emergency powers law invoked by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four Democrats in the House of Representatives joined Republicans in support of the repeal measure, which had previously passed the Republican-controlled Senate on a strict party-line vote.

State government emergency powers have proven controversial across the country. And Whitmer’s use of unilateral emergency powers to impose broad shutdowns of small businesses and limit outdoor activities such as boating was no exception.

Whitmer’s administration relied on the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945 in imposing shutdown orders.That law held the governor could declare a state of emergency “[d]uring times of great public crisis” and impose “reasonable orders, rules, and regulations … to protect life and property or to bring the emergency situation within the affected area under control.”

The repeal effort began as a citizen petition. The nonpartisan advocacy group Unlock Michigan collected hundreds of thousands of petition signatures, and after winning a legal battle over the certification of the signatures, the initiative moved to the legislature for approval.

“We needed to get rid of this law, so no other governor, Republican or Democrat, in the future would ever be able to utilize this law to lock down or control unilaterally every aspect of our lives,” said Ron Armstrong, a Hastings small business owner and co-chair of Unlock Michigan.

Unlock Michigan next is taking aim at the state’s 1978 public health code, which Whitmer’s administration invoked as authority for COVID-19 restrictions after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the 1945 law violated the Michigan Constitution by providing too much discretion to the governor. The group wants to amend the law to limit state public health orders to 28 days, unless the legislature approves an extension.

While policymakers will continue to have tools at their disposal to protect public health and safety, the 1945 law’s repeal is a win for the separation of powers and a government accountable to the people of Michigan.

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