The Michigan state legislature convened in Lansing on Tuesday and voted to prolong Michigan’s state of emergency.
The extension is 23 days, until April 30, instead of 70, as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said last week was her desired extension. However, under the Emergency Management Act, she needs the legislature to vote to extend the declaration.
This decision has no impact on Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, which is still set to end April 14.
Whitmer told reporters after the vote that the extension isn’t as long as she hoped, but the legislature can always extend it again at a later date, according to the Detroit Free Press. Whitmer said extending the emergency declaration protects the state from civil liability for actions taken by first responders.
“We don’t agree on the length of the emergency – the action they took today,” Whitmer said. “That’s their decision. They can come back as much as they want to, even if it is contrary to the best practices.”
State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, told The Daily he felt there was no real purpose to the vote as Whitmer had the executive authority to legally extend the declaration by 22 days.
“It was a voice vote to basically extend by 23 days the governor's executive order,” Rabhi said. “There is some legal disagreement about how much of an impact that will actually have. The governor pretty much has maintained that she did not need the legislature to convene, who extended her authority that she already had … The legislature’s resolution extends her powers until the 30th … Which only really has the effect, in the end, of giving her one extra day.”
Rabhi said the legislature should convene for measures that have a more concrete effect.
“If we have to meet during this crisis, we should be voting on items that have a real impact,” Rabhi said. “There were alternative resolutions offered today that would have actually had a substantive effect.”
Rabhi explained Whitmer has been pulling her authority from three laws: the Constitution, the Emergency Powers of Governor Act 302 of 1945 and the Emergency Management Act 390 of 1976. He noted the 1945 act does not have time limitations, but the 1976 statute limits the governor’s authority to an initial 28 days and requires the legislature to vote to extend it.
There is a legal disagreement within the legislature, according to Rabhi, because the two statutes conflict with each other on the length of the governor’s authority. The Emergency Powers of Governor Act is in effect until the governor declares the emergency no longer exists.
“Combining, essentially, all of that case law, you have the situation where the governor took a broad approach in terms of citations for her executive orders that she could rely on, a number of different statutes for the powers that she has,” Rabhi said. “Again, under the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, there is no time limit. And so there is a legal argument that can be made that she could continue to exercise her powers until the emergency has expired, until the emergency is deemed to be over by her.”
Rabhi said he felt Tuesday’s meeting was political, as many of Michigan’s Democratic members wanted to grant the 70-day extension Whitmer wanted, while the Republicans preferred a shorter extension.
State Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said in a statement last week that while he does think the emergency order should be extended, 70 days was too much time.
“We agree that emergency circumstances persist in our state and are prepared to support an extension of the governor’s emergency declaration, but feel a 70-day extension is too long,” Shirkey said.
Rabhi said he felt the legal discussion that took place today for this vote will likely be continued after this 23-day extension is over.
“And so after April 30, essentially, starting May 1, there could be a legal battle if the legislature chooses to not to re-up or extend her powers under the emergency manager act, she could still assert her authority through the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act,” Rabhi said. “… And that’s sort of some of the things that happened today. I would describe it as a little bit more theater, a little bit less substance.”
According to The Daily’s data, which pulls from the Michigan government, Michigan has 18,970 cases as of April 7.
Daily News Editor Emma Stein can be reached at email@example.com.