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House approves initiative to rein in Whitmer emergency powers

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A 1945 law Governor Gretchen Whitmer relied on to issue emergency orders during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic was repealed Wednesday by a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“I will not be voting ‘yes’ today,” said Republican Representative Jack O’Malley. “I will be voting ‘hell yes.’”

The House vote was the culmination of a business-led petition drive to rein in Whitmer’s use of emergent powers. The vote in the Republican-led House was largely along party lines, with three Democrats crossing over to vote “yes.”

Republican Representative Sarah Lightner said the measure allows the Legislature to reclaim its place as an equal branch of government.

“This is not about any one governor,” she said. “This is about letting the people of Michigan know that no longer will a governor be allowed to use a loophole to rule over the state unilaterally and indefinitely.”

The initiative was approved last week by the state Senate, which is also led by a GOP majority. The repeal will take effect right away with no way for Whitmer to veto it.

Democrats argued the initiative is unnecessary since the law was already struck down in court. A separate emergency powers law remains on the books, but it requires a governor to periodically get the Legislature to approve any extensions.

A rejection by the House or the Senate would have sent the initiative to voters to approve or reject.

Democratic Representative Mari Manoogian said the initiative should go to the ballot “so that every single Michigander has an opportunity to voice their opinion about this.”

The group behind the petition campaign is making plans to launch another signature drive. This one would take aim at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ powers to issue emergency orders.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.