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GOP legislature sues Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer over state of emergency extension

Michigan works to expand coronavirus testing
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Republican legislative leaders in Michigan are suing the state's Democratic governor over her extension of Michigan's state of emergency during the coronavirus pandemic. They announced their lawsuit challenging Governor Gretchen Whitmer's emergency powers after she extended the state of emergency through May 28 last week.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Michigan Court of Claims, argues that she violated the separation of powers in her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Republican-controlled legislature passed a resolution last week authorizing leaders to challenge Whitmer's actions in court.

"She has chosen to regulate every aspect of nearly 10 million lives with no consent or input from the people's representatives, whose assistance the Governor publicly disdains," the court filing says.

Whitmer cited two emergency powers laws, one from 1945 and another from 1976, that she said grant her the legal authority to declare a state of emergency and issue executive orders related to COVID-19.

Republicans are challenging Whitmer's executive authority under an emergency powers law from 1945 and the Emergency Management Act of 1976. The 1945 law does not say that a governor needs legislative approval to issue "reasonable orders," but Republicans are arguing that the law is not meant to address statewide pandemics. They maintain instead that the law "applies only to geographically limited, civil disturbance-like emergencies."

The Emergency Management Act of 1976 does note an extension to a state of emergency requires legislative approval. Because the legislature did not extend the state of emergency at the end of April, Republican legislators argue that Whitmer does not have emergency powers under the 1976 law.

Tiffany Brown, a spokesperson for Whitmer, said in a statement that Whitmer will not be distracted by this lawsuit and will continue to make decisions based on data and guidance from medical experts.

"This lawsuit is just another partisan game that won't distract the governor," Brown said in a statement. "Her number one priority is saving lives. She's making decisions based on science and data, not political or legal pressure."

Over the past couple of weeks, Republican legislators have insisted that Whitmer needed the legislature's approval to continually extend the state of emergency, which grants Whitmer authority to issue broad executive orders, such as a stay-at-home order. They've also claimed that Whitmer hasn't given them access to the data she's using to make decisions about reopening parts of the state's economy.

"We can't see behind the secret curtain," state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said during a press conference Wednesday morning. "The decision processes are a mystery to us."

During a press briefing last Friday, Whitmer said her authority to issue orders including stay-at-home directives comes from the 1945 law. She argued that if the 1976 law, which requires legislative approval for extending states of emergency, superseded the 1945 law, lawmakers would have repealed that law.

Whitmer has loosened some restrictions on her stay-home order, which expires May 15, and is allowing low-risk industries like construction to reopen this week.

COVID-19 has taken a devastating toll on Michigan's economy, with more than one million Michiganders filing jobless claims since the virus forced a number of businesses around the state to close. Republicans argue that Whitmer needs to allow some businesses to open safely, including in parts of the state where the virus hasn't spread as widely, to help lessen the burden on families.

"COVID-19 was a serious challenge enough to deal with, but I do believe the government's response to it and the one-size-fits-all approach has led to millions of families hurting unnecessarily," Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield said Wednesday.

Chatfield said legislative leaders spoke with Whitmer on Tuesday but did not divulge any details of their conversation.

A similar situation is unfolding in Wisconsin, a battleground state that also has a Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled legislature. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is deciding whether to block Governor Tony Evers' "safer at home" order. Legislative Republicans challenged it, arguing the state's health secretary overreached her powers in issuing the order.

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