House leader shares concerns over unintended consequences of gov's COVID-19 orders

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan's GOP legislative leaders are talking with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration about what they see as some unintended consequences of the Democratic governor's spate of executive orders to stem the spread of coronavirus.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield said he and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, have been in communication with Whitmer’s staff about some of those concerns and hope that they are addressed through amendments to existing orders or through new orders.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield

Shirkey's spokeswoman did not immediately return an email seeking comment. 

Some of the hours-long discussions on supplemental coronavirus spending Tuesday in the House and Senate pertained to the executive orders, said Chatfield, R-Levering.

“We’ve been working with her on multiple occasions to ensure that her orders are narrowly crafted to fix the problem they are intended to address,” Chatfield told The Detroit News. “We want to make sure there are no unintended consequences and that the economy is not adversely impacted by any executive order being too wide sweeping.”

Whitmer's office told The News Wednesday the governor issued the orders "under multiple sources of independent authority" in the interest of public health. 

"Of course, we strongly believe every branch of government should act in a coordinated and responsible way," Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said. "We've seen that collaboration already. The governor has full confidence in the actions she's taken to protect Michiganders, which she will continue to do so long as necessary to protect public health and our economy."

State Sen. Mike Shirkey

Since the state confirmed its first cases of COVID-19 early this month, Whitmer has declared a state of emergency and issued executive orders. The orders include ones closing K-12 schools, limiting the number of people who can gather in one place to no more than 50, closing restaurants, bars and other public places, waiving regulatory restrictions standing the way or staffing and bed capacity at healthcare facilities and cracking down on price gouging.

On Tuesday, the state House and Senate were in session late into the evening to pass a $125 million supplemental spending bill to address the coronavirus pandemic.

While much of that time was spent ironing out the details of that appropriation, Chatfield said, legislative leaders also sought clarity or amendments to the executive orders.

Several of the executive orders issued by Whitmer in the past week have cited the Emergency Management Act of 1976, under which she declared the initial state of emergency that gave her the authority to take such action.

But that act has certain limitations.

The Emergency Management Act requires the governor to terminate the state of emergency within 28 days “unless a request by the governor for an extension of the state of disaster for a specific number of days is approved by resolution of both houses of the legislature.”

“In order for many of them, not all of them, to be extended it would require an act of the Legislature,” Chatfield told The News. “We’ll take this one step at the time and fully assess the situation once we bump up against that 28-day time frame.”

Among those items the Legislature would like to see addressed is a potential executive order waiving renewal requirements for someone who has a lapsed commercial drivers license, but would like to help grocery stores and pharmacies with deliveries during the pandemic.

Another includes changes to the executive order on price gouging. Some businesses dropped prices during tax time, and hadn’t adjusted prior to the executive order that locked in those prices, Chatfield said.

“We know what the intent was and we want to make sure the intent is upheld, but we want to make sure we don’t stymie economic activity across the state unnecessarily,” he said.

Some concerns, such as exemptions for hair and nail salons from the public places closure, have already been addressed. Whitmer’s initial order indicated spas would be closed under the action, but later clarified that salons attached to spas fell under the exemption.

Chatfield said the Legislature has expressed other concerns to Whitmer and believes the administration has taken them into consideration. He wouldn’t detail all of those issues, but noted the ban on assemblies gave him pause.

“The right to assemble is a God-given right that is secured in our constitution and its certainly been an issue that I’ve conversed with her and the administration about,” he said.