As promised, Whitmer vetoes GOP bill cutting her emergency powers

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

As she said she would, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed a bill that would have limited her power to extend the state of emergency and disaster during the COVID-19 pandemic or in the future.

“I will not sign any bills that constrain my ability to protect the people of Michigan from a deadly pandemic in a timely manner,” Whitmer wrote in her veto letter.

In recent weeks, the Republican-led Legislature passed Senate Bill 858, among other bills, to limit the governor’s emergency powers and reopen the economy more rapidly. Both the House and Senate have authorized a lawsuit against Whitmer. But on Monday, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said he’s now interested in a ballot measure quashing the governor’s emergency powers and a lawsuit might be filed next week.

SB 858 would have reduced the governor’s ability to issue a state of emergency or disaster for 28 days to 14 days. Dine-in restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and other public places would have been allowed to open by May 15 under the bill. They cannot open until May 28 under Whitmer’s most recent order.

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The bill did not earn immediate effect, so it couldn’t take force of law during the timeline of the provisions laid out in it anyway, something Whitmer noted in her veto letter.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) sponsored another bill that would repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act that allows the governor to issue state of emergency and disasters in the state. Whitmer has used the act as her legal standing to act without the Legislature to take emergency actions for the state. That bill has passed the Senate and is currently in the House Government Operations Committee.

Barrett has said he believes Whitmer’s actions have been unconstitutional and Michiganders’ freedoms are at stake.

“We can both grieve for the loss of life and still protect our system of government,” Barrett said during the April 24 Senate session. “Those two are not mutually exclusive.”

In her veto letter dated Friday, Whitmer said SB 858 is unconstitutional. She said it does not represent the best interests of the people of Michigan, as it calls for actions contrary to the advice of health experts. 

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“I will continue to execute the laws consistent with the Michigan Constitution of 1963, and in accord with the best interests of the health, safety, and welfare of the People of the State of Michigan to whom I express my gratitude for taking the difficult steps necessary to mitigate the impact of COVID-19,” she wrote.

COVID-19 has run rampant through Michigan in the last few weeks. There are more than 43,000 confirmed cases and 4,100 deaths. As numbers begin to plateau, Whitmer has begun conversations of how to slowly reopen the economy.

The current state of emergency and disaster orders are set to expire on May 28, but some previously restricted industries, such as construction and real estate, could get back to work as soon as May 7.