Michigan Legislature kills law Whitmer used for virus rules
LANSING — Republican lawmakers on Wednesday killed a law that underpinned coronavirus restrictions issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, wiping it from the books after Michigan’s Supreme Court declared the measure unconstitutional.
The Democrat is powerless to veto the citizen-initiated bill. A conservative group that organized the ballot drive next plans to target a public health law that enabled Whitmer’s administration to keep intact capacity restrictions and mask requirements for eight additional months until voluntarily lifting them in June after infections subsided amid vaccinations.
The GOP-led House voted 60-48 to repeal the 1945 law, with four Democrats joining all Republicans in support. It gave governors broad powers to declare an emergency and promulgate rules to “protect life and property or to bring the emergency situation within the affected area under control.” The legislation cleared the Senate last week.
Whitmer had used the law to indefinitely issue COVID-19 rules until the court ruled against her last October.
Rep. Andrew Fink, a Republican from Hillsdale County’s Adams Township, said the “idea that we need the governor to do our job for us once into the outbreak of a new virus … is disturbing in its distrust of the citizens of this state. I think that idea is depressing in its view of the Legislature’s capacity to conduct its work in difficult circumstances. And I think that idea is discordant with the principles of American government, which are designed to prevent a single part of the government from acting unilaterally.”
But Democratic Rep. Mari Manoogian, of Birmingham, said GOP legislators should have let the initiative go to the 2022 ballot. She said while 460,000 people signing the petitions is “not a small number,” the state has 10 million residents.
“They will not have the opportunity to have their voice heard,” she said.
Manoogian said the law could be clarified to better define “reasonable” or “necessary” regulations, but should not be voided outright.
A separate emergency powers law, from 1976, remains in place. It lets a governor declare an emergency but it and related orders cannot last for longer than 28 days without legislative approval.
Unlock Michigan, a ballot committee with ties to Republicans, spent millions of dollars to collect hundreds of thousands of voter signatures to bring the bill to the Legislature. Spokesman Fred Wszolek said it ends Whitmer’s “rule by decree.”
The group will soon begin circulating petitions to revise a 1978 law — whose origins date to the 1918 flu pandemic — to make state epidemic orders unenforceable after 28 days unless the Legislature OKs an extension. Local health officers who impose restrictions would need the blessing of their governing body to go longer than 28 days. She has twice vetoed regular bills that would have added the 28-day provision.
Wszolek said Whitmer “abused” the law “to destroy lives, businesses and futures.” She has defended the rules as necessary to save lives in a state with more than 21,000 confirmed or probable deaths linked to the virus. She also has said the executive branch must be able to act quickly and nimbly during a pandemic.
Public Health Over Politicians, a ballot committee of public health officials, doctors and nurses, was recently created to oppose the new initiative.
“This ill-conceived plan would radically shift decision-making authority from public health experts to Lansing politicians and political appointees, resulting in needless illness, suffering and death,” said the group’s treasurer, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail.
On Wednesday, the state reported a 3.1% rate of positive COVID-19 tests, a number that has been rising for three weeks but which exceeded 18% three months ago during Michigan’s third surge. The seven-day average of daily new cases was 306 on Monday, up from 171 two weeks before, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The per-capita rate was lower than those in all but six states.