Michigan Legislature repeals law Gov. Whitmer used to keep COVID restrictions in place

Legislature repeals emergency powers law
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a COVID-19 news conference in 2020. Photo credit State of Michigan - FILE

(WWJ) Michigan's Republican-led House voted 60-48 on Wednesday to repeal the law that gave the governor broad emergency powers during he COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will not be able to veto the citizen-initiated bill, which scraps the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945 (EPGA) — a law declared unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court in October, 2020.

This move is a pointed one by the GOP, which loudly protested Whitmer's use of the law to again and again extend the State of Emergency, and with it a range of restrictions on businesses and gatherings.

The House’s approval comes after passage by the Senate last week. As it was citizen-initiative, the repeal does not require Whitmer's approval to take effect.

The group Unlock Michigan collected 460,000 citizen signatures in support of the repeal.

Those who voted in favor included Rep. Mark Tisdel of Rochester Hills, who said this action will help ensure a well-functioning government even during emergencies.

He points out that in the early weeks of the pandemic, Whitmer kept the Legislature apprised of her emergency decisions, and the House and Senate approved an extension of her initial state of emergency. Later, when the extended state of emergency expired, Whitmer continued to use the EPGA without asking legislators to weigh in.

“During an emergency, it is important for state government to respond to the threat to keep our communities safe,” said Tisdel, in a statement. “Full input from the people whose lives and livelihoods are affected can help determine a balanced course of action, and the diverse voices of the people of Michigan are best heard when their locally elected representatives are shaping policy in our state."

Under a law still in place, the governor can still declare an emergency, but it cannot last for longer than 28 days without legislative approval

“Collaboration between the Legislature and the governor is vital to a properly functioning government," Tisdel added. "We must respond to emergencies hand in hand going forward as outlined in the Emergency Management Act."

Going forward, however, these developments do not necessarily mean that pandemic restrictions in Michigan are a thing of the past. After the Supreme Court ruled on the EPGA, the Whitmer administration began acting under a separate law granting the health department power to set restrictions during a crisis. That law is not affected by the bill passed on Wednesday.