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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants 28-day extension of emergency powers

April 30 update: Whitmer extends Michigan emergency to May 28, as GOP threatens lawsuit

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday she plans to ask the state Legislature to extend her emergency declaration for 28 more days. 

“It really should be longer than that, but 28 days is another important step,” she said. 

“Just in the last few years, the Flint water emergency was extended twice over 122 days. The Fraser sinkhole [in Macomb County], I think that was extended 56 days,” she said. “We’ve only extended, in a global pandemic, a state of emergency by 23 days.”

The emergency declaration allows Whitmer to issue executive orders such as her stay-at-home order mandating residents stay inside unless absolutely necessary, the order closing K-12 schools, and the order barring evictions for the duration of the emergency. 

She first declared a state of emergency on March 10, when the first cases of coronavirus were discovered in Michigan. The declaration was last extended on April 7 and will expire Thursday, at which point the Legislature would have to extend it again or perhaps allow her to rely on a second law giving her emergency powers without their approval.

It’s unclear whether the Republican-led Legislature would approve her request.

Senate Republicans have “not yet reached consensus,” spokesperson Amber McCann said Monday, while a spokesperson for the House GOP caucus did not immediately respond to request for comment. McCann said GOP leaders have reached out to Whitmer to discuss “conditions surrounding a possible extension.” The Senate is scheduled to meet Tuesday, though nothing is on the agenda as of Monday.

After initially backing Whitmer’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Republican leaders in recent weeks have ramped up criticism of her executive orders. Last week, they approved legislation to weaken her emergency powers, which Whitmer vowed to veto, and have said they oppose extending the state of emergency.

Republicans have said Whitmer’s restrictions unfairly punished rural areas with fewer cases, and the GOP has pushed for a faster economic reopening based on geographic risk.

In recent days, after Whitmer eased her third and loosened recent stay-home order Friday, tensions eased between Republicans and the governor,  Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said on a tele-town hall hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber Monday.

Whitmer has argued she doesn’t need the Legislature to approve the extension of her powers: There are two laws that give her the ability to declare an emergency.

Only one requires Legislative oversight, but that law protects healthcare workers from any lega liability they may face for services performed at the state’s request.

“I have multiple distinct independent authorities of constitutional and statutory power to keep people safe as the governor of Michigan,” Whitmer said Monday. 

“The emergency powers that I have as governor do not depend on an extension from the Legislature, but the protections for our health care workers do. So it’s better for everyone if we work together to get this right.”

Republicans in the Legislature have made it clear they want a voice in state policies during the pandemic, such as when to reopen the economy.

“There’s no question that we believe any governor… needs to have the ability to maneuver quickly, act quickly in a state of emergency,” Shirkey said Monday. 

“But there also is no question that we have a representative democracy and that after some time the legislature needs to be involved in the execution and response to those kinds of emergencies.”

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