State lawmakers ask Whitmer to testify on COVID-19 response

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Republican lawmakers have requested Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer testify before a joint, bipartisan committee created to review her response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic has brought in state employees to testify on delays within the state unemployment system as layoffs in Michigan surged during a statewide shutdown. 

But those witnesses were not able to answer all of the questions lawmakers posed and often deferred to the governor, said Rep. Matt Hall, the Marshall Republican who chairs the committee. 

“Gov. Whitmer can provide additional answers and clarity to the decisions she has made, while upholding state government as transparent and accountable to the people it represents,” Hall said in a Thursday statement Thursday. 

The bipartisan committee requested Whitmer’s presence at July 8 meeting, noting she’d already done as much for congressional leaders during a Tuesday U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing.

Michigan House of Representatives, 2018.

“State legislators have been unable to be a part of this process and, in turn, the people we represent have been unable to have their voices and concerns heard,” said Sen. Aric Nesbitt, the Lawton Republican who serves as vice chairman on the committee. “This would provide a valuable opportunity for people throughout the state to get answers to the questions they’ve been trying to ask through their local elected officials.”

Whitmer will review the request, spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said.

The letter sent to the governor Thursday noted Whitmer’s participation in the hearing will help in “upholding state government as accountable and transparent to the people it represents.”

“Doing so will help deliver answers to that single mom who has gone weeks without a paycheck, or the Main Street business owner who doesn’t have a Wall Street-sized legal team to interpret the many executive orders leaving them in limbo,” the letter said.

The state Legislature is locked in a legal battle with the governor, challenging her authority to extend her emergency declaration so as to continue her stay-home executive orders. The Legislature has argued in part the indefinite continuation of the emergency declaration usurps the authority of the Legislature as the sole lawmaking body. 

A Court of Claims judge ruled in May that Whitmer has the authority to extend the emergency declaration under a 1945 law, but not under a similar law enacted in 1976. The ruling has been appealed.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com