Gov. Whitmer again vetoes bill to limit Michigan health department orders

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has vetoed a bill that would have placed a time limit on emergency orders from her administration, the second time in fewer than four months the Democratic governor has rejected the GOP-controlled Legislature's proposal.

Senate Bill 1, the first bill introduced in the Senate this year, would have required the director of the state Department of Health and Human Services to seek legislative approval for an emergency order once it was in place for 28 days. If lawmakers didn't approve an extension, the order would have been lifted.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference on Friday, Jan. 22.

"Unfortunately, epidemics are not limited to 28 days," Whitmer wrote in a letter to senators Wednesday. "We should not limit our ability to respond to them."

The veto is the latest development in a year-long power struggle between Whitmer's administration and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

GOP lawmakers have contended that the Whitmer administration has gone too far in issuing restrictions on gatherings to stem the spread of the coronavirus and left the legislative branch out of the discussions.

Whitmer has argued that she's using power available to her under state law and she's taking steps to protect lives. She has vowed not to sign bills that weaken her executive power or the power of a future governor.

Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, introduced the bill to limit epidemic orders from the state health director to 28 days. Theis has said the proposal "restores the balance of power and is the best way to allow the governor, Legislature, health care experts and business owners to work together on solutions."

State law gives the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services the ability to issue orders to protect public health in the face of a pandemic. The orders have been the main tool the Whitmer administration has used to respond to the virus since the Michigan Supreme Court in October ruled a law the governor had used to issue unilateral executive orders was unconstitutional.

Michigan's health director, currently Elizabeth Hertel or previously Robert Gordon, has signed epidemic orders to require masks be worn in public places, to suspend indoor dining at restaurants and to limit residential gatherings.

As of Wednesday, Michigan had reported 633,191 COVID-19 cases and 15,919 deaths linked to the virus. The state revealed its first infections on March 10, 2020.