Michigan Republicans aim to limit emergency orders to 28 days in massive bill package

Republicans are again trying to limit the government’s emergency powers, this time with the goal of repealing state departments’ emergency health powers.

But supporters of the 31-bill package say it’s simply a move to tighten up current laws while eliminating duplicate — and, in most cases, completely unused — language between law enforcement agencies. the state.

Removing emergency powers, or requiring those powers to be reviewed by the Legislative Assembly after 28 days, has long been a Republican fixation after the COVID-19 pandemic began. Meanwhile, Governor Gretchen Whitmer used a decades-old law that allowed her to extend the state of emergency in perpetuity until the ability to use said powers was struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States. Status at the end of 2020.

Despite this, the governor turned to local health departments, which used their own powers to place jurisdictions under their jurisdiction in localized emergency orders. It was decried by many on the right as an attempt to circumvent the court’s ruling, leading to legislative efforts and a ballot petition to curtail these emergency powers.

The initiative petition, by the group Unlock Michigan 2, would have demanded that emergency orders expire after 28 days without an extension from the Legislative Assembly or local government. That effort, however, fell through after failing to collect the 340,047 signatures needed to be placed on the ballot. There was also a legislative effort to enact similar measures which Whitmer inevitably vetoed.

The crux of that movement appeared to endure during a House oversight committee on Wednesday thanks to a massive bill that stretched from HB 6184 to HB 6214.

It was there that Rep. Julie Alexander, R-Hanover, alongside Mackinac Center for Public Policy research director Michael Van Beek argued that the package was intended to install four guiding points for an order of urgency: having a trigger mechanism, defining an authority field, having a time limit and including procedural conditions for the order.

“Many of these statutes lack sufficient safeguards for approval of legislative notices, public hearings or time limits on orders,” Alexander said. “A variety of carefully considered changes in this package will help improve emergency powers in Michigan, ensuring proper reach – as well as legislative oversight – and, ultimately, accountability to the people. »

Alexander is sponsoring the group’s lead bill, HB 6184, which again seeks to make the Legislature the final say on whether emergency orders issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) can continue beyond 28 days. It would also prohibit the creation of a new emergency ordinance that deals with the same outbreak as the previous ordinance without the consent of the Legislative Assembly.

As to why the 28-day figure, she said it was to stay consistent with what was already on the books for emergency orders under the Emergency Management Act of 1976.

Other bills from the group would similarly change DHHS’s emergency order powers by restricting other parts of Michigan law so that its monitoring of a crisis cannot continue beyond 28 days without legislative approval, including the department’s ability to ban public gatherings. DHHS officials are also expected to provide information about why continuing the order was necessary.

DHHS isn’t the only state agency impacted by these bills, with eight of them seeking to repeal emergency powers in departments such as licensing and regulatory affairs (LARA), agriculture and rural development (MDARD), insurance and financial services (DIFS) and natural resources. (MRN). These bills, HB 6185 through HB 6192, grant state agencies mostly redundant powers to introduce an emergency order and have been rarely used according to Van Beek.

He said his aim was to make the laws consistent and clearer across government so there would be “less confusion the next time emergency powers like these are used”. Alexander, similarly, called the agencies’ emergency powers overly broad, as well as possessing no time limits or legislative oversight.

This, however, was a point of contention for Rep. Julie Brixie, D-Okemos, who argued there was no evidence that any of these departments abused their emergency order powers – several never even having exercised them since their statutes were first enacted. By that logic, she argued, “there’s no real reason to have that kind of distrust.”

Rep. Stephanie Young, D-Detroit, also expressed concern that the Legislature has the final say in an emergency, noting that the Whitmer administrations’ actions have been guided by health experts during the pandemic. of COVID-19. Given that there are 110 members of the House in a standard session, she wondered how bringing so many perspectives to the table could produce a more informed outcome than those responsible for health could bring.

Rep. Jeff Yaroch, R-Richmond, was quick to counter that there were several health care workers serving in the Legislative Assembly — including himself, a former paramedic — and that their expertise was “beyond by far any press conference Governor Whitmer had” during the pandemic.

He wasn’t the only Republican to worry about who had the final say on the matter with Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, saying it was possible to grant an elected official power that would not give back to the people. once the emergency has passed.

“This package…makes a lot of sense because what we’re doing is saying you have this authority, but yet you have to put checks and bumpers on it to make sure it works,” a- he declared.

Emergency ordinances, however, were not the sole purpose of each part of the bill: HB 6203 would require the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to notify the Legislative Assembly when it closes dams, while HB 6204 would require the Legislative Assembly to be notified when an organism is classified as a prohibited or restricted species.

Meanwhile, DHHS should notify lawmakers within 24 hours when a controlled substance poses an imminent danger to public health under HB 6206 and DNR should notify the Legislature when revoking an operating license. mining or completely cease mining activity under HB 2608. .

Oversight committee chairman Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, said his goal was to send each of the bills to the House through a vote next week. He pointed out that none of the bills were restricted, meaning a lawmaker could vote no on an issue in the package without compromising another bill’s ability to pass.

“If you’re not married to one or not or all, you can pick and choose,” he said. “And hopefully at least everyone can support notice bills – and get rid of duplicate bills – and maybe have a more in-depth discussion about the others.”

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