Michigan House approves final end of Emergency Powers of the Governor Act

Approval from the chamber official repeals the 1945 law Gov. Whitmer used to make COVID-19 orders
Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 3:00 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Michigan’s Emergency Powers of the Governor officially no longer exists.

The Michigan House voted on Wednesday to approve a citizen initiative by Unlock Michigan to entirely remove the 1945 law, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to make controversial COVID-19 orders in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Michigan Senate approved the initiative last week. Because the measure came to lawmakers as a citizen petition drive, Whitmer has no recourse to veto the measure repealing the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act.

“Hundreds of thousands of our families, friends and neighbors changed Michigan forever when they decided they had enough and stood up to make a difference,” said Michigan House Speaker Jason Wentworth. “They took strong action to protect their families, their children’s education and their ability to make ends meet, and we can never thank them enough.”

Whitmer used the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act to make COVID-19 orders from March through September 2020, including a face mask mandate and requirements for certain businesses to close for in-person customers.

Republicans long have complained that Whitmer used the law to keep them from key decisions during the coronavirus pandemic and acted autonomously with orders that had a broad economic impact.

“The people of Michigan brought this forward because they had a real problem with the unilateral power the governor was executing and she refused to listen,” said Republican State Rep. David Martin of Davison. “I heard people’s concerns loud and clear. Our system of government was founded on the principle of checks and balances to ensure no person would grab too much power, and the governor stepped way over that line.”

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional on Oct. 2, 2020, which was the same day Unlock Michigan turned in its petitions to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office. Critics were concerned the Supreme Court could reverse its ruling and reinstate the law, so they moved forward with the initiative process.

Meanwhile, the Republican-led Legislature approved a bill to abolish the law last fall. However, Whitmer vetoed that bill in December, so the law remained on the books but invalid due to the Supreme Court ruling.

The Secretary of State’s Office recommended approval of the petitions in April after determining 460,000 signatures are valid, which exceeds the minimum of 340,000 signatures to move the issue forward.

But the Board of State Canvassers deadlocked on partisan lines in June. Democrat members of the board wanted to investigate Unlock Michigan’s petition practices first.

However, the Supreme Court ruled twice that the board has a duty to approve the signatures. Canvassers approved the petitions earlier this month and sent them to the Legislature.

“This initiative restores the balance of powers in the state of Michigan, and in doing so restores the people’s seat at the table,” said Republican State Rep. Phil Green of Millington. “Each of the three branches of government are meant to be co-equal, with no one branch or individual wielding unilateral power for an extend period.”

Despite the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act being repealed, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services retains authority to make public health orders with the separate Public Health Code. That law was not affected by the Supreme Court ruling or repeal of the 1945 law.

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