Republicans vow to cut Gov. Whitmer’s emergency powers

LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Republicans who control the Michigan Legislature said they will meet Friday to pass bills to rein in the emergency powers of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and create a committee to oversee the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, a dramatic strike against the Democrat amid the health crisis.

A spokeswoman for Whitmer promised a veto and said Republicans were “playing dangerous partisan games” while the governor is focused on saving lives and controlling the spread of the virus.

Republicans are unhappy with the breadth of Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, though polling shows the public believes she made the right calls. She is expected to extend it past April 30 but with modifications.

“Lives have unfortunately been lost in our state. Many people are suffering. Livelihoods have been destroyed, and many freedoms are gone. Frankly, we deserve better,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield said on social media.

A House spokesperson says it will follow the same model as the investigation of the Snyder Administration’s handling of the Flint Water crisis.

The Senate will also vote on the measure after it comes over from the House. But there are other bills that deal with limiting the Governor’s powers during an emergency declaration, and the upper chamber will likely deal with some of those too.

Those bills, and holding session in general, are not to the liking of Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich.

“It’s politics, unfortunately. People think she’s handling this crisis very well, and they do not feel the same about the President. I think it coming down from high that they have to try to take her numbers down. Republicans put out a plan just last week about handling the economy and this violates that very plan by having a bunch of people in a room together with no social distancing, very little health protocols. So then we’re going to leave there and go back to all across the state for the purposes of taking a couple political votes. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is,” the Flint Democrat said.

In the House, the resolution to create that committee will be done on a voice vote. Members will check in then leave the chamber, leaving only a handful of members to vote to represent a quorum.

The Senate will presumably have a majority of members in the chamber at the same time to take roll call votes.

The two bills to be considered, other than the resolution deal with repealing the 1945 law, about emergency powers leaving the newer legislation from 1976 to govern emergency orders. The second would limit the time a Governor can declare an emergency to 14 instead of 28 days unless extended by the legislature.

The flap could explode into a legal fight because one state law gives the governor broad authority to unilaterally declare an emergency, while another one requires input from the Legislature. In issuing her stay-home orders, Whitmer has cited both laws.

The governor “will not sign a bill that would diminish her ability to protect citizens of this state from a deadly disease that has already killed thousands of people in Michigan,” Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said.

FEWER PATIENTS

A major health care provider in southeastern Michigan said the number of COVID-19 patients had dropped below 500 this week for the first time in nearly a month.

Henry Ford Health System reported 490 patients Thursday morning at five hospitals, a sign that the coronavirus was slowing down. It had 426 patients on March 28 and more than 700 on April 8.

COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the virus. Henry Ford said it has discharged 1,549 patients during the outbreak.

Beaumont Health has also reported a significant drop in patients at its Detroit-area hospitals.

JOBLESS AID

Michigan had 134,000 new filings for unemployment aid last week, raising the number of initial claims to nearly 1.2 million over five weeks. It’s the equivalent of 25% unemployment, although not everyone will qualify for benefits.

More than $1.3 billion has been paid to 820,000 people so far, the state said.

BORDER BUST

A Canadian nurse allowed to cross the border to work in Michigan was busted with 153 pounds of marijuana in the trunk of her car, authorities said.

Terri Maxwell, 48, was arrested Wednesday at the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit. The U.S.-Canada border is restricted to health care workers, commercial trucks and travelers deemed essential during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Smuggling in marijuana simply isn’t essential,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said.

Maxwell was due in court Thursday.

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White reported from Detroit.