Advance Notice: Briefs

Unlock Michigan launches 2nd petition to limit state, local health powers 

By: - August 24, 2021 1:08 pm

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services | Susan J. Demas

A right-wing group’s second petition to quash health orders is underway, this time aimed at eliminating the ability of state and local health officials to implement mandates, as they’ve done during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Last month, the GOP-led Legislature voted to approve the Unlock Michigan petition to repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act (EPGA). Under Michigan law, the Legislature can adopt citizen-led petitions that get the required number of signatures — and governors have no power to veto.

“Unlock Michigan” petition sign at the Second Amendment March at the Capitol, Sept. 17, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

Without the EPGA, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has relied on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to issue public health orders. Restrictions were lifted on July 1.

This new petition drive seeks to limit state and county epidemic orders to 28 days, unless extended by legislators or county commissions.

“The #Unlock2 petition drive is underway. Accountability is coming to public health departments, and the days of endless decrees are numbered,” Unlock Michigan spokesperson Fred Wszolek tweeted Tuesday. 

If the petition drive collects the minimum 340,047 signatures of registered Michigan voters it needs, it will likely be adopted by the Legislature.

This is coming at a time when COVID-19 cases are rising due to the more contagious Delta variant, and Michiganders are nervous about how the start of a new school year could worsen the pandemic in the state. 

As of Monday, the state reported 933,394 COVID-19 cases and 20,123 deaths. 

There has been a push from parent groups for a state mask mandate in schools, but Whitmer has only said she backs local districts issuing mandates.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive and chief deputy health director, said last week during a press conference that she urged Whitmer and DHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel to implement a statewide mask mandate for schools.

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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.