Senate approves COVID-19 oversight committee, limiting governor’s emergency powers

LANSING, Mich. Sen. Ed McBroom said Friday that he voted to create the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic to examine the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, and for legislation to limit the governor’s authority during states of declared emergency or disaster.

“Protecting the health and well-being of Upper Peninsula residents is my top priority, especially in times of crisis,” said McBroom, R-Vulcan. “The state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak revealed how little prepared it was to not only ensure people’s safety but also determine what could be done safely. It has also been eye opening to see just how much power lies in the hands of the executive and how little input or influence the people have in what is done in times of a declared emergency. The actions we’ve taken today will help correct those wrongs.”

House Concurrent Resolution 20 created the bicameral, bipartisan committee. In addition to reviewing how the state reacted to the coronavirus, the committee will also explore potential policy solutions to better prepare for any future emergencies or disasters.

The Senate also approved legislation that would rein in the nearly unlimited powers of Michigan’s governor during states of emergency or disaster.

Senate Bill 857 would repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act. The law may be interpreted to allow a governor to declare an indefinite emergency and put in place orders, rules, and regulations that have the full force of law.

SB 858 would reform the Emergency Management Act to shorten the amount of time of an emergency or disaster declaration to 14 days, rather than 28. After 14 days, the governor would need legislative approval to extend any declaration.

“Social distancing and other health-focused steps taken to fight the spread of COVID-19 are necessary and working, but there is no reason those measures can’t be implemented in the workplace so more people can get back to work safely,” McBroom said. “Unfortunately, the governor’s broad powers and resistance to working together have led to confusing and unclear guidelines. And while I appreciate that she has finally relaxed some of her restrictions today, we need to ensure that the people have more of a say, and sooner, in how our state responds to emergencies.”

SBs 857 and 858 now advance to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Strict health screening procedures were again put in place at the Capitol on Friday.

The number of staff members in the Senate chamber was limited to a handful, senators maintained a six-feet distance between themselves, masks were required, and before entering the Capitol, everyone was required to pass a health screening administered by the Michigan State Police with the assistance of medical professionals.

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Editor’s note: Video of a speech given by McBroom from the Senate floor on the day’s action is available at SenatorEdMcBroom.com/video/.