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Unlock Michigan 2 effort to curb public health orders won’t make ballot

man with ballot
GOP advocacy group Unlock Michigan 2 announced it will have to refocus its efforts to curb state and local public health powers during emergencies for future legislatures. (Shutterstock)

June 6: Nonprofit tied to Mike Shirkey probed for funneling money to Unlock Michigan

Organizers for Unlock Michigan 2 — aimed at curbing the length of state and local health department emergency orders —announced Tuesday they would not submit the group’s petition signatures before a Wednesday deadline to get on the November statewide ballot. 

Fred Wszolek, spokesperson for Unlock Michigan 2, said in a press release that petition organizers collected “more than the minimum required signatures, but we’ve not collected a sufficient number of additional signatures to withstand the expected challenge.”

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“But we’re confident of success in the next legislature and hopeful that a new governor will join us in a reform effort,” Wszolek added.

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The petition, if put into law, would have reduced the duration of emergency public health orders to 28 days, and required approval by the legislature or a local governing body to extend it. The petition drive missed an initial 180-day window to submit the 340,047 valid voter signatures needed to advance the initiative to the GOP-led Legislature and bypass an expected veto by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Petitioners had until Wednesday, June 1 to file enough signatures but because Michigan law limits signature collections to 180 days. By continuing to circulate petitions this spring, the GOP group would have had to toss out initial signatures they collected in October.

The petition effort was one of several strategies employed by mostly conservative groups to rein in emergency COVID orders issued by the Whitmer administration aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly virus. Last July, the Legislature repealed a 1945 law that Whitmer had used to impose COVID restrictions. 

Since then, the advocacy group shifted its sights to place limits on a 1978 public health law that gives local health boards and the state department of health similar emergency powers.

Michigan law allows the Legislature to adopt petitions if enough signatures are gathered. Any state citizen can file a petition to establish a new law, repeal a law through a referendum or amend the state’s constitution.

In the Tuesday press release, Wszolek said the advocacy group is now shifting its focus to support politicians who would amend the state’s Public Health Act in the future.

“We have received assurances from Senator Aric Nesbitt and Representative Matt Hall that bringing public accountability to the Public Health Act will be one of the first items on their agendas next year, and we’re confident that Michigan voters are ready to turn the page on the era of bureaucrats ruling by decree in the name of ‘public health,’” Wszolek said, referencing two state Republicans.

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Critics have decried the petition drive as an attack on the expertise and independence of public health officials. Whitmer already vetoed nearly identical legislation.

In the same Tuesday press release, Nesbitt, who chairs the Regulatory Reform and Advice and Consent Committee, stated that representatives like himself must “be involved when so much is at stake.”

Meanwhile, Hall stated that reducing state health powers will be a “priority for the Michigan House of Representatives.”

“The days of unelected bureaucrats shutting down our businesses, schools, churches, and day-to-day life with no accountability to elected officials are almost over,” Hall said. 

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