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Ballot drive targets Michigan law that underpins virus rules

Unlock Michigan
Unlock Michigan


A conservative group said Monday it will launch a ballot drive to require legislative approval to extend emergency pandemic orders beyond 28 days — the latest bid to neuter the power of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration to issue coronavirus restrictions.

The initiative will be organized by Unlock Michigan. Last year, the Republican-affiliated ballot committee successfully gathered voter signatures to repeal a 75-year-old law — later declared unconstitutional — that underpinned the Democratic governor’s rules. After the ruling, her administration kept many limits intact, and eased and tightened them under a 1978 law that gives the state health director broad authority to issue epidemic orders.

The new measure would revise the law to make such orders unenforceable after 28 days unless the Legislature OKs an extension. Local health officers who impose restrictions would need the blessing of their governing body to go longer than 28 days.

“Neither this governor, nor any future governor, will be allowed to rule by decree in the future,” Unlock Michigan spokesman Fred Wszolek said.

If the group collects enough petitions, the GOP-led Legislature could pass the initiative instead of letting it go to a public vote. Whitmer could not veto it. She twice has vetoed regular bills that would have added the 28-day provision.

GOP legislators are expected to soon wipe from the books the gubernatorial emergency powers law that was the backbone of her orders for seven months, after the Supreme Court unanimously ordered the state elections board to certify that initiative. Whitmer has said COVID-19 restrictions are needed to slow the spread and save lives.

Michigan’s outdoor gathering caps ended June 1. Indoor capacity limits will go away July 1, as will most mask requirements, amid vaccinations and much lower infection rates.