Editorial: End emergency powers
With new COVID-19 cases in steady decline and most businesses finally set to reopen, it’s time for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency powers to end.
The governor declared a state of emergency on March 10, giving her extraordinary authority to manage the state through the pandemic. She used that power to basically shut down the state, ending in-person schooling, closing bars, restaurants and stores and forcing all but those businesses deemed essential to shut their doors. The damage to the economy and to individuals has been enormous.
The 113 executive orders she’s issued cover nearly every aspect of life in Michigan. Many have been heavy handed, arbitrary and illogical.
Courts have recognized some of the governor’s abuses of power and checked them. The Court of Claims last week rejected her attempt to penalize those who ignore her stay-at-home mandates through the Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Administration after several local sheriffs refused to issue tickets to violators.
The move would have allowed the state to impose much harsher fines – up to $70,000 — and prison time. The court ruled the law only allows the state to levy the penalties specified under the emergency powers statute, which are set at $1,000 and 90 days in jail.
The Michigan Supreme Court also curtailed the state’s vendetta against an Owosso barber who refused to close his shop, sending the case back to the Court of Appeals with a scolding from Justice David Viviano to “ensure decisions are made according to the rule of law, not hysteria."
Continuing the emergency powers beyond the point of crisis will only invite more such litigation.
The initial emergency declaration was renewed by the Legislature. But the governor acted unilaterally to issue subsequent extensions without legislative consent. That action is being challenged in court. The governor has set no firm benchmarks for ending the state of emergency, and unless a court intervenes, she can extend them indefinitely.
Whitmer’s own actions have signaled to the public that the emergency has subsided. She made a mockery of her social distancing mandate when she joined a crowded anti-police brutality march in Highland Park last week. In light of her own disregard for the orders, there seems little point now in allowing the governor to micro-manage the activities of citizens.
Whitmer’s stay-at-home order is set to expire Friday, and the current extension of the state of emergency lapses June 19. That should be the end of it.
If the coronavirus should spike again later this summer or fall, the governor can — in cooperation with the Legislature — declare a new emergency. But the current declaration should not remain in place on a just-in-case basis.
Whitmer and the Legislature must turn their full attention now to getting the state through another crisis — the more than $6 billion budget shortfall projected over the next two years. The process should not be skewed by the governor using her emergency powers to work around lawmakers.
COVID-19 is still a threat and may remain one for months or years to come. Michigan can’t wait until the virus completely disappears to return to regular order governing.