GOP bill bans Whitmer from using warning system — but not the one she used during pandemic

By: - September 2, 2021 1:50 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

The Michigan Senate passed a bill Wednesday to bar the state’s public threat alert system from being used to inform Michiganders about a new law or executive order. 

House Bill 4061, introduced by state Rep. Bradley Slagh (R-Zeeland), was in response to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer using an alert system to tell residents about stay-home orders and mask mandates throughout the pandemic. She used the alert system four times in 2020. 

Rep. Bradley Slagh

The bill, which passed along party lines with a 20-16 vote in the Senate, only includes exceptions if “it is necessary to transmit the announcement of the new law or executive order … to respond to an immediate or nearly immediate loss of life or property.”

“Our administration has been clear that we will support public health measures that protect people and save lives, but oppose any attempts to politicize this pandemic or prevent future administrations from doing their jobs,” said Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy. “At a time when misinformation spreads so quickly online, the state’s alert system ensures that Michiganders have the most up-to-date information at their fingertips to keep themselves and their families safe during an emergency situation.”

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported Wednesday that a total of  951,192 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 20,347 have died from the virus.

However, the alert system Whitmer used to inform Michiganders of executive orders during the pandemic is different from the one passed in the Senate.

Whitmer relied on the integrated public alert and warning system (IPAWS), which was not included in HB 4061. Despite the bill limiting a warning system the governor didn’t use during the pandemic, Whitmer is still likely to veto the bill. 

IPAWS is under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and disseminates both an Emergency Alert System message over TV and radio broadcasts, as well as a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) to cell phones. Those alerts include AMBER alerts, immediate evacuation, nuclear power plant warning or a shelter in place warning.

Slagh told the Advance Thursday that he thought his bill did cover the alert system that Whitmer used, but he now may need to either update HB 4061 or introduce a new bill. 

My son now will not be getting any alerts to know that a flash flood is coming or that a tornado is on its way. And that's not what we should be using emergency alert systems for.

– Rep. Bradley Slagh (R-Zeeland)

Slagh said that his son turned off the emergency alerts on his phone after Whitmer’s second alert, which is what sparked the idea for the bill. 

“My son now will not be getting any alerts to know that a flash flood is coming or that a tornado is on its way. And that’s not what we should be using emergency alert systems for,” he said. 

He reiterated that he believes statewide emergency alerts should be used only in instances of immediate threat for Michiganders. 

The public threat alert system that is affected by the bill was only used once in the last five years for an active-shooter situation, according to Michigan State Police spokesperson Shanon Banner.  

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.