Lansing, Michigan capitol

The Michigan Capitol in fall 2021

(The Center Square) – Should state agency heads and Michigan’s governor wield broad emergency powers to shut down banks, cancel hunting or fishing seasons, and more?

The Michigan House Oversight Committee weighed a bill package that aims to repeal or amend 31 sections of the state's laws regarding emergency powers.

The package, House Bills 6184 - 6214, aims to hold the government accountable to Michiganders when asserting emergency powers for health or safety reasons by setting timeframes, eliminating redundant laws, and removing what bill sponsors say are “unnecessary” powers.

“Our plan applies lessons learned regarding the use of emergency powers in the last few years,” Rep. Julie Alexander, R-Hanover, said in a statement. “In Michigan, we’ve all learned from experience that authority without accountability can cause distrust.”

In 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer invoked a 1976 emergency power law that let lawmakers review her far-reaching authority after 28 days, but she also invoked a now-repealed 1945 emergency power with no time limit.

Whitmer could have declared an emergency indefinitely if the Michigan Supreme Court hadn’t struck down her power, describing the 1945 law as “an unlawful delegation of legislative power to the executive branch in violation of the Michigan Constitution.”

Still, emergency orders through the state health department lingered.

Alexander said the plan would hold government accountable by giving legislators the power to either extend or end some emergency powers after 28 days.

For example, HB 6186 seeks to sunset on June 30, 2022, the ability of the director of the Department of Insurance and Financial Services to order a financial institution to close one or more offices because of an emergency.

Alexander sponsored HB 6184, which aims to limit and allow legislative reauthorization for state health department epidemic orders.

Oversight Chair Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, called Whitmer’s response to COVID “a complete abuse of emergency power.”

In 2020, Whitmer used 192 executive orders to manage the daily lives of about 10 million Michiganders, including whether they could go to work, travel to a second home, or at which stores they could buy gardening supplies.

For example, she shuttered Michigan bowling alleys for 212 days in 2020, and her lingering orders upended many wedding and catering businesses far into 2021.

The plan remains under consideration by the committee.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.