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Legislature Seeks To Limit Whitmer’s Use Of Alert System

Gilles Lambert

Republicans who control the Michigan Legislature want to limit Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ability to send statewide emergency alerts to wireless devices and broadcast stations except for “immediate” threats.

The Democratic governor’s administration used a public alert system four times last year in the coronavirus pandemic to notify residents of stay-at-home orders and mask requirements to curb COVID-19, frustrating GOP lawmakers.

Under legislation approved 20-16 by the Senate on Wednesday, one system could not be activated to announce new laws or executive orders unless it is necessary to “respond to an immediate or nearly immediate loss of life or property.” The bill also would specify that threats can include natural disasters, industrial explosions, train derailments and announcements of endangered missing people.

Senators passed the measure on party lines, and the governor’s office said she will veto it. The bill was approved by the House in March.

“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,” Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy said.

Even if the governor signed the measure, it would not stop her from being able to alert residents to laws or orders, according to the Michigan State Police. Spokeswoman Shanon Banner said the public threat alert system — created by a 2016 law — has only been used activated once, for an active-shooter situation nearly five years ago. A different system that would not be affected by the legislation, the integrated public alert and warning system, was used for the 2020 pandemic alerts, she said.

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., an East Lansing Democrat, called the bill “legislative micromanagement” of the public emergency system. Democratic Sen. Jeremy Moss of Southfield deemed it “preposterous” and “emblematic of a Legislature that is looking for just something to do.”

No Republicans spoke in support of the measure before the vote. But the sponsor, Republican Rep. Bradley Slagh of Zeeland, has cited residents’ complaints about Whitmer’s use of emergency alerts and has said the alerts instigated “unnecessary fear.”

He said last year that reminding people about a mask mandate she had announced days before “is not an emergency. Overusing the alert system is going to cause people to become numb to legitimate emergencies in the future.”

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