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In A Testy Session Lawmakers Create Oversight Committee, Advance Bills To Limit Emergency Powers

Lawmakers returned to Lansing for the second time during the stay-at-home order to create an oversight committee into the state's COVID-19 response and vote on bills aimed at limiting the Governor's emergency powers.
Abigail Censky, WKAR
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Lawmakers returned to Lansing for the second time during the stay-at-home order to create an oversight committee into the state's COVID-19 response and vote on bills aimed at limiting the Governor's emergency powers.

Legislators wore homemade masks and went through temperature screening before entering the Capitol for the second time under the stay-at-home order. Republican leaders from both chambers called lawmakers back to Lansing on short notice to vote on an oversight committee into the state’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Democrats were livid about the session they called a “political stunt” giving fiery floor speeches against bills that aim to limit the Governor’s emergency powers and voicing objections to the oversight committee Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) declared a “sham.” Senator Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) alleged the “insane clown posse has more sense than the Senate Republican Caucus.”

House Speaker Lee Chatfield said the session was important so the legislature could reclaim their voice in the state’s pandemic response.

“Again, our main focus right now is ensuring that we have a collaborative process, moving forward with this administration, ensure they’re handling this pandemic the right way, so we can be the voice for the people as the legislature was always intended to be,” said Chatfield.

In the senate, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle gave vivid testimony about friends and constituents lost to COVID-19 as Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended the stay-at-home order through May 15th from the state’s Emergency Operations Center across town. 

Democrats alleged without addressing paid sick leave, PPE for frontline workers, or the state’s unemployment insurance agency backlog—the session didn’t merit a return to Lansing—where they were called to vote on the oversight committee and bills to limit the Governor’s emergency powers. 

State Senator Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) cited polling that 57 percent of Michiganders surveyed favor the Governor’s response to the pandemic. 

“These bills show a flagrant disregard for science, for the constitution, and for what the people want. They make it clear that the health of the people of Michigan isn’t a priority and that politics is,” said Bayer.

Senate Republicans countered with passionate speeches of their own describing the Governor’s actions as a power grab—one they needed to urgently reverse. Senator Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) sponsored the bills

"This bill removes any doubt as to the proper roles of government in our state. We can both grieve for the loss of life and still protect our system of government. Those two are not mutually exclusive,” said Barrett. 

In a Facebook post from ten days earlier Barrett wrote “Freedom is messy. It means people get to make their own decisions and to carve their own path. Free to listen to the medical advice and to practice safe habits without threatening people with misdemeanors and jail time. Even free to stay home if they choose.” 

The bills passed out of the senate along party lines, 22-15, and both chambers approved an oversight committee into the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers will return again next week to vote to extend or limit the Governor’s emergency powers.

Follow Abigail on Twitter: @AbigailCensky

Abigail Censky is the Politics & Government reporter at WKAR. She started in December 2018.
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