Lansing, Mich. (WLNS)– Michigan lawmakers plan to convene to lengthen Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency declaration amid the coronavirus pandemic but are at odds over the extension and whether the session is even necessary.
The Republican-led Legislature is scheduled to meet Tuesday, three weeks after the last voting. Since then, one legislator has died from a suspected COVID-19 infection and two others have tested positive, causing uneasiness over congregating in Lansing.
The Governor has requested a 70-day extension on the Emergency declaration. She has not made a formal announcement about plans to also extend the Stay at Home Order but said in a press conference on Monday, April 6th that it’s being considered.
“We are looking at an additional order with regards to staying home and staying safe. We know that people are taking it seriously and I think that that’s a good thing. We are not close to the apex yet, we have not hit that yet and until we do, I think it’s absolutely essential that we’re continuing to be aggressive,” Gov. Whitmer said.
Stretching Whitmer’s emergency is important because the original declaration – set to expire – is the basis of nearly 30 subsequent executive orders, including those telling people to stay home and closing schools and businesses.
A number of lawmakers have expressed their support of the extension, but some do not want to extend it by 70 days. They instead want to extend it through the end of April. The Governor said she’s concerned that if it isn’t extended for the 70 days she requested, there’s a chance the legislature could have to meet again.
“If they’re coming in I hope that they will seriously look at going 70 days because I would hate for them to have to come back at the height of the crisis that we’re confronting. These are legislators that are coming from all parts of our state, so to congregate and then go back to all parts of our state is contrary to all of the best medical advice that we’re getting from epidemiologists,” the governor said.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield, (R-Levering), is supportive of meeting and is urging House Democrat Leader Christine Greig, to join him and other lawmakers Tuesday. In a letter sent to Greig on April 4th, Chatfield wrote:
“Leading by example also includes stepping up and taking action in challenging times. That is the job we asked for and the responsibility we now have to fulfill. The right thing for all of us to do is to continue leading and helping the people of this state get through this difficult time with as many answers, resources and solutions as we can.”
Chatfield went on to write that the House has a comprehensive plan in place that mirrors guidelines established by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control. That includes symptom and temperature checks and other measures to “minimize the risk of exposure to legislators and staff as they do what millions of other Michigan residents are doing every day and show up to perform an essential service.”
On the contrary, State Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township) issued a statement Monday that said she will not be in attendance at Tuesday’s session.
“This pandemic is still in its infancy and 727 people have already lost their lives. One of our colleagues already had their life tragically cut short and two more have tested positive for COVID-19. It’s unfathomable to me that Republican leaders continue to insist that the Legislature convene to extend a rescinded executive order.”
Brixie said she supports Leader Greig’s plan to establish remote voting, but some argue that is unconstitutional. She went on to write, “Regardless of what the Legislature does tomorrow, Gov. Whitmer’s new executive order will still be in effect until April 29. Reputable judges have already stated Gov. Whitmer can continue the state of emergency and disaster without Legislative approval.”
Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr., (D-East Lansing) however, wrote:
“I know the question has been asked about meeting remotely. Currently, the Constitution does not allow for that. We could amend the Constitution, but that’s a complicated process that isn’t possible in our current situation.”