Michigan lawmakers extend emergency declaration in pandemic

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — The Republican-led Michigan Legislature on Tuesday lengthened Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus emergency declaration by 23 days, through April, rather than adopt a 70-day extension she sought into mid-June.

Mask-wearing lawmakers approved the shorter extension by voice vote after undergoing screening procedures to enter the Senate and House chambers. Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, who presides over the Senate, wore an “Everybody Vs COVID-19” shirt.

Republicans said they had to act or else Whitmer’s emergency declaration would expire under a 1976 law. But Democrats said it would not have lapsed because she issued a declaration last week that also includes a new disaster declaration, meaning legislators did not have to vote until April 29.

Another complexity is that a 1945 law, also cited in Whitmer’s declarations and orders, gives a governor broad powers to unilaterally declare an emergency and when it has ended — without any legislative oversight.

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For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

Lengthening Whitmer’s emergency is important because the original declaration is the basis for roughly 30 subsequent executive orders, including those telling people to stay home and closing schools and businesses.

Data released Tuesday shows Michigan has nearly 19,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 845 people across the state have died because of it.

The Legislature implemented screening and distancing procedures to limit legislators from potential exposure. Two lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, while a third has died of suspected COVID-19.

Everyone who came to the Capitol building had their temperature taken. The number of members of the floor at one time was limited and the measure was passed by a voice vote with only a quorum.

It only takes 20 members to make a quorum in the Senate, so senators made pretty quick work of extending the order. In the House, 55 members had to check in, so it took a little longer.

“We knew that we had to take an unprecedented protocol today on the House floor to ensure are members were kept safe and that’s why we took the steps that we did. We ensured that there were no more than five members on the floor at any given time and we thought that was the sensible approach,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, said. “It was adopted by a voice vote and a state of emergency has been extended until the end of April. We’re going to continue to work with Gov. Whitmer and President (Donald) Trump throughout this entire crisis because COVID-19 isn’t playing politics and we shouldn’t be either and that’s my goal.”

The Legislature will likely not return to session until the end of the month, when another extension may be required. Chatfield said if members do have to come back during the outbreak, the same protocols used Tuesday would once again be in place.

—News 8 political reporter Rick Albin contributed to this report.

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