Q&A: Brad Williams Breaks Down What is Happening in Lansing

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Brad Williams, Vice President, Government Relations, Detroit Regional Chamber

Q: Why is the Legislature meeting this week?

A: Legislative leadership has indicated that they intend to return to “regular order” as much as that is possible during a global health pandemic.  We can expect to see the Michigan Legislature attempting to continue with a normal calendar going forward, and to exert the legislative role in the governing process.  The top order of business was to be an extension of Gov. Whitmer’s emergency powers under the 1976 Emergency Powers Act which are set to expire Friday, May 1.

Q: So, did that happen?

A: It did not. The executive’s emergency powers are extensive and complicated. The governor has emergency powers under two separate statutes.  To keep it simple, the 1945 act is narrower, but has no role for the legislature, the 1976 act is broader, but requires the legislature to re-affirm the state of emergency after 28 days. The governor argues that she can exercise all of her emergency powers under the 1945 act except the power to protect health care workers from legal liability.

In an effort to find common ground and extend the powers of the 1976 act, staff for Gov. Whitmer, Speaker Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Shirkey had behind the scenes conversations.  The Senate Majority Leader’s Chief of Staff offered to extend the powers of the 1976 act by two weeks if the governor publicly agreed that new “Stay at Home” orders would be issued through the legislature instead of by executive order.  When Gov. Whitmer’s office rejected this offer, the email exchange was released to the media, seemingly cutting off conversation and hope for a resolution.

Q: So where do we stand now?

A: If you are a fan of civility, it is not great. The breakdown between the governor and the legislature means that it is unlikely that there will be an extension of the emergency powers under the 1976 act.  The powers under the 1945 act will remain in place. Both Houses of the legislature granted their leadership the authority to sue the governor by voice vote.

Q: What is the difference between “emergency powers” and the “stay at home” order?

A: The governor’s emergency powers under state law are the broad powers that allow her to issue orders including limiting gatherings, closing schools, extending unemployment benefits, limiting liability for health care workers, and the stay at home order.  Without extending the governor’s emergency powers, not only does the stay at home order fall, but all of the orders issued during the emergency are potentially at risk as well.

Q: Bottom line, are we under a State of Emergency?  Do Gov. Whitmer’s Executive Orders still stand?

A: Yes, while some in the legislature are trying to modify the governor’s existing authority, no changes have been made. Until either a court or the governor says Michigan is not under a State of Emergency, the state remains under a State of Emergency.

Q: What is the Chamber’s view of the process?

A: If we take away the personalities from the situation, in a perfect world, legislative participation is always preferable to executive action.  However, the reason we have emergency management laws is that certain situations require more nimbleness then the legislative process can provide.  Michigan’s Constitution requires a minimum of 11 days between the introduction and passage of a piece of legislation.  Emergencies require quicker responses.  The best option today would be executive actions the incorporate feedback from legislative leadership, but do not require legislative action that takes far too much time.

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