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GOP lawmaker floats bill to seize emergency operations from Michigan State Police

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Republican lawmaker wants state emergency operations removed from the purview of the Michigan State Police to become an independent position within the governor's cabinet. 

The legislation introduced Tuesday would create a department of emergency management whose director would be appointed by the governor. 

Emergency managers from every state department met at the State Emergency Operations Center in Dimondale Friday for briefings on preparedness for coronavirus.

The bill by state Rep. Jack O'Malley, R-Lake Ann, also would create an emergency management transition commission to transfer emergency operations out of the state police and into an independent department by January 2022. 

O'Malley argued 48 other states have separate departments for emergency management, an independence that allows those officials to focus solely on emergency management and coordination of response among the different state agencies. 

"This is not about Michigan State Police," he said. "It's about emergency management. ... Emergency management is about planning and about coordinating. MSP is law enforcement and they're good at it.”

The bill is expected to be read in during Wednesday's House session and eventually referred for committee hearings.

The Michigan State Police is reviewing the bill after it received a copy Tuesday afternoon.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office said it would be premature to comment on the new legislation. 

"However, we're still waiting to see real solutions and ideas from Republican legislators on how to address this unprecedented public health and economic crisis," Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said. 

The State Police's Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division coordinates state and federal resources to help local governments respond in times of emergency or disaster. 

Because the main mission of the state police is to focus on law enforcement, O'Malley said, emergency management has become more of a "side job" for the agency.

The legislation is about more than the six-month pandemic during which the state has relied on emergency operations housed within the Michigan State Police, O'Malley said.

Other recent emergency events such as the polar vortex gas shortage, and flooding in the Upper Peninsula and Midland also call for a more dedicated focus on preparation and coordination, he said. 

"COVID was what broke the camel’s back, but the camel was already faltering under the stress," O'Malley said. "Emergency management has to evolve.”

Under the proposed legislation, the director would be required to submit a new state emergency management plan to the governor and legislative leaders every two years.

The plan must include a program to continue essential state functions under any circumstance; identification of essential personnel and programs; delegations of authority; identification of alternative facilities for vital records, databases and communication; an inventory of emergency supplies; and an implementation plan of all emergency management protocols. 

The transition commission appointed to transfer emergency management operations out of state police would include people appointed by the House speaker, the Senate majority leader, the Michigan National Guard, the Michigan State Police and other representatives from local levels of government.

It also prevents state emergency coordinators at the county level from being a county and state elected officials.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com