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House OKs Unlock MI Proposal, Puts Final Nail In Emergency Powers Law

July 27, 2021

The 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act has been repealed because of a 60-48 vote in the House Wednesday afternoon. 

That is the law Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to issue her rolling executive orders for the first seven months of the COVID-19 pandemic, for which she was sharply criticized for ruling by edict. The law became the target of the Unlock Michigan petition drive. 
 
“This proposal today is democracy in action,” said Rep. Matt Hall (R-Marshall) in his floor speech in support of the repeal. “They circulated this petition because they felt they had no other way to have their voices heard.” 
 
Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann) said that early on in the pandemic, he believed the Governor and the Legislature were working well together, when the Governor was taking input from lawmakers. 
 
But then that relationship broke down when “she didn’t take any of our suggestions.” 
 
“That cost people their livelihoods and took children out of the classrooms,” O’Malley said. 
 
He argued the 1945 Act was never intended to address an emergency as long term as a pandemic. 
 
“I will not be voting yes today, I will be voting hell yes,” O’Malley said. 
 
But Rep. Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo) said, as a health care professional, she supported the ability of the Governor to act in an emergency. 
 
“This is not a rogue governor following her own rules. She was following the law as it was written that only recently was ruled on by the court,” Rogers said. 
 
Rep. Samantha Steckloff (D-Farmington Hills) contended that those who signed the petition had been told the question would be put on the election ballot for a vote of the public. 
 
“This was supposed to go to the people,” Steckloff said. “. . . How many times are you going to lie to the people?” 
 
The vote nearly followed party lines, with all Republicans voting yes. Reps. Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette), Tim Sneller (D-Burton), Richard Steenland (D-Roseville) and Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) joined in supporting the repeal. 
 
The 1945 law had already been declared unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court in October. 
 
But the vote approves a repeal proposed by initiative petition. Unlock Michigan had collected 538,000 signatures, 460,000 of which were deemed valid, to overturn the old law, also known as the 1945 Riot Act. Only about 340,000 signatures were needed. 
 
Under Michigan’s constitution, laws proposed by initiative petition can be approved by the Legislature without risk of a gubernatorial veto. Without Legislative approval, the question would have gone to the voters in an election. 
 
The Senate voted 20-15 along party lines last week to also adopt the repeal. 
 
Supporters of repeal say the Governor will still have the authority to issue executive orders in a crisis under the 1976 Emergency Powers Act. But, under that law, after 28 days such orders would need legislative approval. 
 
Those supporters argue the Governor should not be able to operate by decree and that the purpose of the Legislature is to act on the issues that were the subject of her executive orders. 
 
Opponents argued the repeal will strip the Governor of powers needed to respond properly to emergencies, like pandemics, which may arise in the future. The Legislature, by design, operates slowly and 28 days may not give the Governor enough time to deal with emergency circumstances. 
 
Fred Wszolek, spokesperson for Unlock Michigan, issued a statement even before the vote was cast. 
 
“Our Unlock Michigan citizen army collected over 540,000 signatures in just 80 days. Now, 292 days later, we will complete our mission with a final vote in the Legislature to end Gov. Whitmer’s rule by decree. Next, we will turn our attention to the public health law Whitmer abused to destroy lives, businesses, and futures. Don’t bet against our success there either,” Wszolek stated. 
 
Unlock Michigan has launched a second petition drive to limit to 28 days how long state and local health officials’ orders can last without additional approvals from the Legislature. 
 
An organization known as Public Health Over Politicians however objected, pointing to a spike in cases of Legionnaires’ disease as an example. 
 
“This sudden spike in cases of Legionnaires’ disease highlights the extreme danger in hamstringing our public health experts or injecting partisan politics into our public health systems,” said Mark Fisk, spokesperson for the group. 
 
Linda Vail, the Ingham County health officer, said the “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.” 
 
Today’s vote counts as the tenth time lawmakers have adopted laws proposed by initiative petition. It is the fourth time since 2017. 
 
Fourteen initiative petitions have gone to the ballot box under the state’s constitution enacted in 1963. 

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