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Senate approves veto-proof initiative to repeal emergency powers law

Above, the state Capitol in Lansing in 2012.

The Republican-controlled state Senate has approved a petition initiative to reign in the power of the governor to deal with future health emergencies. It’s an attack on Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and the 1945 law she used to issue emergency orders.

Republican Senator Jim Runestad said that law allowed the governor to ignore the wishes of the legislative branch as she enacted COVID restrictions.

“We weren’t involved, so all of these ridiculous crash-and-burn policies that the governor crafted during this pandemic did not involve the Legislature so that we would have an opportunity to weigh in,” he said.

If repealed, the governor would have to get the Legislature’s permission after 28 days to extend emergency orders.

Democratic Senator Mallory McMorrow said the initiative is simply a political jab at Whitmer and would be too restrictive on a governor’s ability to manage a crisis.

“And by removing these powers, we would be telling the people of Michigan: You have to wait. I know there’s an emergency, but you have to wait,” she said. “I can’t in good conscience put the lives of Michiganders at risk.”

The initiative was approved on a party-line vote in the Senate. It now goes to the Republican-controlled House, where it also expected to pass. It cannot be vetoed by Governor Whitmer.

In the unlikely event it is not adopted by the House, it would go to the ballot for voter approval. In the meantime, a follow-up petition campaign is getting ready to challenge the power to issue public health orders like the ones the Whitmer administration relied on in the later days of the COVID-19 crisis.