Michigan House passes bill limiting Whitmer shutdown of schools, school sports
House lawmakers have passed a bill that would shift the authority to close schools and stop some sporting events to local health departments from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Michigan House lawmakers have passed a bill providing a check on the decision-making of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
House Bill 4049, sponsored by Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, shifts the authority to close in-person learning at schools and stop school sporting events to local health departments – and away from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, or MDHHS.
HB 4049 passed Feb. 4 on a 57-52 vote. Lawmakers tied the new limits on the governor’s emergency powers to the state’s $2.1 billion education funding package, arguing local communities needed greater authority over how schools could operate before allowing the Whitmer administration to distribute tax dollars.
The bill strips the director of the MDHHS of the authority to “close a school to in-person instruction” and prohibit a “qualified sporting event.” Qualified sporting events include sporting events between schools, collegiate sports, local club sports and practices.
The bill also sets rules for when local health officials may issue an emergency order related to COVID-19 stopping in-person learning at schools and sporting events, including the number of positive tests, hospitalizations and hospitals’ surge capacity.
The Michigan Supreme Court declared Whitmer’s extension of emergency powers unconstitutional Oct. 2. The court ruled Whitmer could not continue to declare new disasters to extend her emergency executive powers beyond the 28-day limit set by the Emergency Management Act of 1976 – and would instead need to work with the Michigan Legislature on new restrictions and extensions.
In place of executive orders, however, Whitmer has turned to epidemic orders from the MDHHS to take action on COVID-19, instead of working with the state legislature on public health measures.
Rather than continuing to impose blanket statewide restrictions through agency rulemaking – nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic – local health departments should have the power to safely open up schools for in-person learning and student sporting events.