LANSING – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday extended Michigan’s state of emergency through Sept. 4, amid continued high daily case numbers, ongoing pushback from Republican lawmakers and an accelerated petition drive to sharply curtail her emergency powers.
The state of emergency had been set to expire at the end of the day Tuesday.
Michigan’s state of emergency should not be confused with the stay-at-home order, which Whitmer lifted June 1. A state of emergency does not by itself place any restrictions on Michigan residents, but it authorizes the governor to issue orders placing such restrictions as ones requiring mask-wearing or limiting restaurant capacity to 50%.
“We are in a crucial time in our fight against COVID-19, and we must do everything we can to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and the brave men and women on the front lines of this crisis from a second wave,” Whitmer said in a news release.
“I will continue to use every tool at my disposal to protect Michiganders from the spread of this virus. I want to remind everyone in Michigan to wear a mask, practice safe physical distancing and do everything in your power to fight COVID-19.”
Friday’s extension of the state of emergency is the latest in a series of extensions Whitmer has made unilaterally since May, when the Republican-controlled Legislature declined to grant an extension under the Emergency Management Act of 1976.
That refusal left Whitmer with only one major legislative tool in her toolbox – the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945, which does not require the Legislature to sign off on a state of emergency.
Unlock Michigan, a group with strong ties to the Republican Party, has collected more than 100,000 valid signatures in the last three weeks on its way to a goal of 500,000 signatures in a bid to repeal the law, spokesman Fred Wszolek said Friday.
Under Michigan’s provisions for citizens’ legislative initiatives, if the group submits more than 340,000 valid signatures to the Legislature within the required time frame, the House and Senate could vote to repeal the Emergency Powers of Governor Act and Whitmer would have no veto power to stop the repeal.
Wszolek said Unlock Michigan expects to submit the required signatures before the end of October, and possibly sooner. More than 68,000 activists have asked for signature kits, he said.
Whitmer has expressed increasing concern about high coronavirus case numbers in recent weeks, though she said this week that new cases appear to have reached a new plateau, with daily cases in the 600s and 700s. Whitmer announced no new restrictions on economic or social activities at her news conference Wednesday.
Instead, she continued to urge adherence to measures announced earlier, especially stressing the wearing of masks.
Republican leaders have slammed Whitmer’s orders as arbitrary and contradictory, most recently her July 29 announcement that the size of gatherings and indoor service at bars serving alcohol would be dialed back Up North, at the same time she announced Detroit’s three casinos would be allowed to open at 15% capacity.
“Same day Governor allows Detroit casinos to reopen, she orders Northern Michigan and UP to go backwards,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield said on Twitter.
“Science? Data? Sorry, but this seems more like political science.”
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Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, announced Aug. 2 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, after hosting an Unlock Michigan signing event on July 18 that he said drew 580 people from 21 Michigan counties.
The signing event was billed as a drive-through, but Barrett acknowledged Friday that many exited their vehicles and mingled outdoors after signing the petition at a table. Photos taken at the event show Barrett, not wearing a mask, standing a few feet away from others in attendance, and in one case, reaching out to shake the hand of another man, who was also not wearing a mask.
Barrett said he was not aware whether state coronavirus conta…