Petition to limit Michigan governor’s emergency powers gains board’s OK

July 6, 2020 in News by RBN Staff

source:  detroitnews

, The Detroit NewsPublished 11:14 a.m. ET July 6, 2020 | Updated 11:31 a.m. ET July 6, 2020

Lansing — The Board of State Canvassers signed off Monday on summary petition language from a group that wants to repeal the 1945 law that grants Michigan governors the power to take unilateral actions during declared emergencies.

A group called Unlock Michigan needs to collect 340,047 valid petition signatures in 180 days to put its initiated legislative proposal to repeal the Emergency Powers of Governor Act before the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature, which has challenged Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency powers in court. If the Legislature approves the repeal, Whitmer wouldn’t be able to veto the repeal.

The board’s 4-0 vote was a procedural step that committees often go through before circulating petitions. Unlock Michigan plans to begin circulating petitions later this week, said group spokesman Fred Wszolek, a Republican political consultant.

“Off we go,” Wszolek said after the vote. “Coming soon to a street corner near you.”

Whitmer has criticized any attempt to limit her powers while she works to combat the COVID-19 public health crisis. The governor has argued that measures she’s implemented have helped the state make progress in its fight against the virus.

In the past couple of months, Michigan has gone from third nationally for cases and deaths linked to COVID-19 to 11th for cases and seventh for deaths, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University.

“Any attempt to strip away the powers of the governor during this crisis is irresponsible, dangerous and foolish,” Whitmer said during a press conference last month.

But Wszolek has previously countered that under the current reading of the law, any person could become governor and decree a state of emergency for the four-year term because of a “hailstorm.”

The state of emergency declaration is what gives the governor the unilateral power to issue stay-at-home orders or to close specific businesses, like gyms or bars. Currently, there are two state laws that allow a governor to declare a state of emergency and take actions under them.

There’s a 1976 law, the Emergency Management Act, under which the governor can declare an emergency but must get the approval of the Legislature to continue it after 28 days.

Then, there’s the 1945 law, the Emergency Powers of Governor Act, which doesn’t include a timeline for the Legislature to have a say and appears to allow the governor to decide when to rescind an emergency declaration.

Unlock Michigan would leave the 1976 law in place but repeal the 1945 law.

The Republican-controlled Michigan House and Senate have challenged Whitmer’s use of both laws to declare emergencies. The case is pending in the state Court of Appeals after Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled in May that Whitmer had the authority to continue Michigan’s state of emergency without the Legislature’s approval under the 1945 law.

Two high-ranking Republicans — U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden Township, and Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake — have voiced support for potential initiative efforts to limit Whitmer’s emergency powers.

Wszolek has previously said Unlock Michigan’s intention is to get a proposal before the Legislature by the end of the year.