On the same day Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced she was part of a seven-state coalition of governors working to ease the restrictions contained in the state’s stay-at-home order, Michigan Republican legislators outlined bills designed to take away the power she used to institute the order.
Bills introduced in both the state House and Senate would repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, which outlines power the governor has during a time of “great public crisis.”
A separate bill would cut the governor’s ability to declare a state of emergency in half, slicing it from 28 days to 14 days. Whitmer originally used that power when she declared a state of emergency March 10. As it was about to expire, Whitmer signaled a desire to have it extended 70 days; the Legislature extended it only through May 1.
State Sen. Tom Barrett, a Republican from Charlotte who sponsored one of the bills, said in a press release after Whitmer extended her order that he understood the need to “take appropriate precautions” to stay safe.
“In addition, we needed to give our medical industry and hospitals time to ramp up for the needs of those affected by COVID-19,” Barrett said at the time. “Yet we must also realize that most of our basic and fundamental rights have been suspended and our ability to earn a living has been affected. We will never eliminate all risk, and we have to allow the people of this state to begin to make their own decisions about the risks presented by this virus.”
When Whitmer extended the stay-at-home order through April 30, she added restrictions that put more stringent rules on which businesses were to close and banned travel to second vacation homes as well as visits between houses.
On ABC’s Good Morning America Friday morning, Whitmer said she hopes to have “some relaxing” of restrictions come May 1.
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The bills likely aren’t going anywhere. Whitmer’s team pointed out she still wields a veto pen.
“Gov. Whitmer will not sign a bill that would diminish her ability to protect citizens of this state from a deadly disease that has already killed thousands of people in Michigan,” Tiffany Brown, Whitmer’s spokeswoman, said in a statement.
As Michigan’s confirmed cases of coronavirus climbed past 29,000 and the number of deaths reached nearly 2,100, the praise Whitmer was getting for her initial response – she’s even landed on the short list as a potential vice presidential candidate – has started fading.
In addition to the Legislature’s attempt to strip Whitmer of some of her power, the backlash she’s facing includes a pair of federal lawsuits, Wednesday’s protest in Lansing organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and a letter from half-a-dozen U.S. House Republicans from Michigan calling her new stay-at-home order “far too restrictive.”
Wednesday’s protest was the most visible, a crowd police estimated between 3,000 and 4,000 people descended on the Capitol Building in Lansing to protest Whitmer’s second stay-at-home order. The protest, originally intended to be a drive-by where protesters stayed in their cars turned into a large gathering in the streets.
Most of the protesters could be seen milling about, not observing the social distancing recommendations and many not wearing masks or gloves. Whitmer later lamented the lack of adherence to the guidance.
“This kind of activity … put more people at risk and, sadly, it could prolong the amount of time we have to be in this posture,” she said.
One federal lawsuit filed on behalf of four plaintiffs claims restrictions in the governor’s extended stay-at-home order are “arbitrary, capricious, irrational and abusive.” The other lawsuit claims Whitmer’s order violated the constitutional rights of a person ticketed while preaching and picketing outside a Detroit abortion clinic.
The governor’s office doesn’t comment on pending litigation, a spokesperson said.
There are also calls for the recall of Whitmer. A change.org petition had drawn more than 269,000 signatures. There’s also a Facebook group with some 250,000 members.
The letter from U.S. Representatives Fred Upton, Tim Walberg, Bill Huizenga, John Moolenaar, Paul Mitchell and Jack Bergman, urged Whitmer to amend her second stay-at-home order (read the full letter here: https://www.scribd.com/document/456400309/Letter-to-Gov-Whitmer-Expanded-Stay-Home-Order#from_embed).
“Instead of needlessly shutting down large sectors of the economy and further restricting the lives of residents, we believe amending Executive Order 2020-42 can achieve our shared goal of protecting public health while also beginning the slow process of resuscitating our economy,” they said in the letter.
Whitmer acknowledged the frustration businesses and residents are feeling.
“I know there are people who are hurting because of this … But I also know it was absolutely necessary, with the path that we are on,” she said Wednesday. “I can tell you as tough as this has been, if we have to come back to this position in a month or two, it’ll be absolutely devastating.”