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State Of Emergency Powers Limited Under 30 Bill Package

June 21, 2022

The House Oversight Committee took testimony on a package of 30 bills that would provide “guardrails” to limit and codify existing state emergency powers. 

Rep. Julie Alexander (R-Hanover) testified on the package, dividing it into sections she said would set timeframes, strengthen legislative oversight, eliminate redundant laws and remove unnecessary powers. 

Alexander said the comprehensive package is meant to address broad and overarching administrative powers that were seen during COVID-19-related emergency declarations.  

“Over the years, the Michigan legislature has enacted laws that give the governor’s office and departments broad discretion in emergency circumstances, trusting this discretion would be exercised wisely,” Alexander said. “Many of these statutes lack sufficient guardrails for legislative notification, approval, public hearings or time limits on the orders.” 

There are 30 instances where a department is able to act unilaterally in response to some sort of emergency situation, said Michael VanBeek, the director of research for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. 

Van Beek, who testified with Alexander on his research into emergency orders, said the bills allow other branches of government to share responsibility. 

17 of the 30 bills create requirements to inform the Legislature if an emergency order is declared. The types of emergencies covered range from fire to suspending mining operations and affect state departments like the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of Energy. 

Other bills in the package seek to limit emergency declaration powers, including HB 6193, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale). The bill removes language that would allow a state health inspector to order a dwelling be vacated “for any cause.”  

“We find that this language is broad, dangerous and might potentially lead to abuse,” Alexander said. 

But Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township) said the change isn’t necessary because there’s been no misuse of the language by current or previous administrations. The bill, which was enacted in 1917, has no evidence of being used at all. 

“In my experience with government, we’re all doing our best here,” Brixie said. “And there isn’t a real reason to have this kind of mistrust, that we’re going to argue over these words that are listed in the statute.” 

Alexander said the 1945 emergency powers act that allowed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to shut down the state “wasn’t abused until 2020.” 

But she said a lack of use is one reason for repealing eight bills in the package. Most of them have never been applied, are “overly broad” or can be found repeated in other legislation. 

HB 6185, HB 6186, HB 6187, HB 6188, HB 6189, HB 6190, HB 6191 and HB 6192 would repeal some or all parts of a department’s ability to declare an emergency declaration, ranging from halting the insurance industry (HB 6185) to suspending an open season for fish, game or fur bearing animals (HB 6192). 

Another four bills in the package would limit emergency orders to 28 days, HB 6194, HB 6195, HB 6196 and HB 6197. And HB 6184, sponsored by Alexander, would specifically address epidemic emergency orders, prohibiting an extension without approval of both legislative branches. 

Among the cards read in support were Van Beek, on behalf of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, in support of all 30 bills. The Michigan Greenhouse Growers Council wrote in support of HB 6199, which would require the legislature to be notified within 24 hours if a dangerous insect or infectious disease is found. 

But Holly Hook, member of the mobile home community organization MH Action, testified in opposition to HB 6188, which repeals the ability to suspend a license under the Mobile Home Commission Act. 

Hook said repealing the act, which helps “protect the health and safety of residents,” could remove incentives for mobile home owners to keep property in safe and livable conditions.

Rep. Steven Johnson (R-Wayland Twp.), who chairs the committee, said that House members don’t have to agree with all the bills, but hopefully can get behind some of them. 

The package is awaiting action in committee. 

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