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Michigan Senate Repeals State’s Emergency Powers Law

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer can’t issue a veto to keep the powers she used during the early days of the pandemic to institute sweeping health and safety restrictions. The Senate voted along party lines for the petition.

(TNS) — Michigan Republican senators used a relatively obscure procedural tactic Thursday to repeal an emergency powers law in a manner that prevents Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from issuing a veto.

The Senate voted 20-15 along party lines in favor of a petition, pushed by a group called Unlock Michigan and other critics of the governor, that would repeal the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945.

Whitmer used the law during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to institute sweeping health and safety restrictions. There are other laws that allow the governor or health department director to issue similar pandemic rules, and the Legislature always had a role in creating the rules and power offered to a governor facing a crisis.

But this specific law was cheered as a means to save lives by supporters and derided as an avenue to use dictatorial power from opponents.

"No matter what challenges we face, no matter how hard the task is, it is not an appropriate excuse or substitute to say that one person can continuously govern and make rules that have the force of law over the rest of us, and completely bypass the other branches of government," said Sen. Tom Barrett, R- Charlotte, calling the petition drive a "people's veto."

Under Michigan law, a petition that receives enough signatures and is certified by the Board of State Canvassers goes to the Legislature for approval. The Legislature can vote in support of the petition's proposed idea, or leave the decision up to voters in the form of a ballot question.

The House is also expected to approve the petition language. If the Legislature approves the petition, Whitmer cannot veto the measure and the law would be repealed.

Democrats spoke out against the measure, arguing repealing this law would endanger lives and hamstring leaders trying to respond to a crisis.

"This is about our ability to react to pandemics and disasters in the future," said Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D- Beverly Hills.

"It will handcuff our future leaders, duly elected by the people of Michigan, who must act quickly in times of crisis and do so responsibly and decisively."

Petition organizers started collecting signatures in the spring of 2020 after Whitmer's orders. At the same time, Republican lawmakers moved to do away with the law while advocates challenged it in court.

In October, the Michigan Supreme Court voted 4-3 that the law is unconstitutional, shifting power inappropriately from the legislative branch to the executive branch. The ruling forced Whitmer to stop relying on the law for pandemic orders; the health department started used the public health code unaffected by the ruling that created similar restrictions.

The court ruling did not actually do away with the emergency powers law.

GOP lawmakers successfully passed legislation that would repeal the law, but Whitmer vetoed it. There was some belief that a shift on the state's high court that gave Democrats a majority could lead to a different ruling on the constitutionality of the law.

Amid the legislative fighting, the petition drive pushed on. Despite allegations of misconduct by the Unlock Michigan organizers, the state Supreme Court determined the group received more than the roughly 340,000 signatures needed for the petition. It ordered the Board of State Canvassers to certify the petition; the board did so earlier this week.

Attorney General Dana Nessel investigated allegations of misconduct by the Unlock Michigan organizers. While she said some engaged in sleazy tactics, there would be no criminal charges stemming from their efforts.

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