Advance Notice: Briefs

Gov. signs bill to allow remote public meetings, vetoes absentee ballot application bills

By: - October 19, 2020 1:17 pm

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill Friday that amends the Open Meetings Act to allow meetings of a public body to be held electronically or with remote participation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 1108, introduced by Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), mirrors an executive order that Whitmer had in place previously but is no longer in effect after the Supreme Court struck down the 1945  Emergency Powers of the Governor Act earlier this month.

“By allowing for remote meetings, public bodies and residents can continue practicing safe social distancing while also ensuring meetings remain open, accessible and transparent to the public,” said Governor Whitmer. “I am grateful that the Legislature has taken another step towards protecting Michiganders against the spread of COVID-19 by codifying my executive orders. As always, I remain ready to work alongside the Legislature to pass laws that help us defeat this virus together.” 

Whitmer also vetoed a number of bills sent to her desk that she said would confuse voters ahead of the general election next month.

Senate Bill 977, introduced by Sen. Kevin Daley (R-Lapeer), and House Bill 5881, introduced by Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton), would make it a felony for a person to filled out and submit an absent voter ballot application using another person’s name and personal ID information, with some exceptions. 

Under current law, it is a misdemeanor for a person to make a false statement in an absent voter ballot application and a felony for a person to submit a forged signature on an application.

Whitmer said these bills would “muddy the waters, and would likely confuse voters about what conduct is actually criminal.”

“Under SB 977, it would be a felony to submit absent voter applications with the intent to obtain multiple ballots,” Whitmer wrote in her veto letter. “Still, voters may submit multiple applications for any number of reasons, including harmless error and fault of memory. Any suggestion that the filing of a second absentee ballot application is criminal behavior creates needless confusion and fearmongering around the absentee voting process. It is bad for voters and bad for our elections.”

Bollin said the governor’s veto will “undoubtedly hurt the public’s faith in our election system” and said the bills were about voter protection, not voter intimidation. 

Another bill vetoed by Whitmer last week was Senate Bill 659, introduced by Sen. Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford), which would amend the Michigan Vehicle Code to change procedures for vehicle dealer training programs.

Whitmer vetoed the bill because she said it would put additional administrative burdens on the Department of State while prohibiting it from collecting any fees to pay for the new mandates. 

Instead, she said she is willing to work with the Legislature to design a “workable structure that allows third parties to conduct used automobile dealership prelicensure trainings.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered 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.