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Michigan Gov. Whitmer orders state police to enforce COVID executive orders

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is beefing up her coronavirus executive orders, requiring Michigan State Police to enforce them like any other law and ordering possible license revocations for violators.

Whitmer’s Tuesday executive directive comes as new coronavirus cases continued to climb since rules were relaxed in mid-June. As of Monday, the state had more than 83,000 confirmed cases, nearly 9,000 probable ones and more than 6,400 deaths. 

Whitmer’s order also requires elevated enforcement in places where coronavirus transmissions are well documented, such as nursing homes, migrant farmworker housing, and meat processing plants. 

“Ensuring these executive orders are enforced across the state will protect Michigan families, small businesses, and the first responders on the front lines of this crisis,” Whitmer said in a news release. “By allocating the appropriate and needed resources, we can continue to save lives and ensure we don’t have to move backward.”

Until now, local law enforcement has largely been responsible for enforcing Whitmer’s executive orders, such as requirements for individuals to wear masks indoors, maintain social distance and the continued closure of gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys, concert venues and others in most parts of the state.

Enforcement has varied. Detroit has issued $1,000 fines to more than 2,600 people, while many county sheriffs have said they’re not willing to issue citations over the orders. 

Whitmer’s latest directive doesn’t apply to local and county law enforcement agencies as it’s only binding on state agencies. Shanon Banner, spokesperson for the Michigan State Police, told Bridge the directive won’t change much. 

“This directive supports and confirms the enforcement posture we have used since the beginning of the pandemic,” she wrote in an email to Bridge. “Our troopers will continue to enforce all of the executive orders.”

However, data on the number of citations, fines or arrests MSP have issued related to executive order violations aren’t readily available, Banner said. 

Tiffany Brown, spokesperson for Whitmer, said in an email to Bridge that the governor's office thanks "the State Police and all law enforcement who have shown a commitment to enforcing the executive orders – and hope that law enforcement officers across the state will follow their lead."

But the state police aren’t the only state agency with widespread power over enforcement: Many other state departments are responsible for licensing and regulating businesses and permits. 

The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs issues licenses and permits for hundreds of industries and professions from nursing to restaurants to auto mechanics. A spokesperson for LARA could not immediately be reached for comment on how the directive may affect licensees.

Businesses can already lose their licenses for breaking the orders, but Whitmer’s Tuesday directive requires agencies to consider it. In the past, it’s been rare for a license to be pulled over a coronavirus-related issue — one prominent example is when the state suspended the license of an Owosso barber whose flouting of closures on salons made national headlines.

The order came the same day as the Court of Appeals considered an ongoing lawsuit from Republican leaders in the state Legislature over Whitmer’s continuation of a state of emergency without their approval. A lower court sided with Whitmer.

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