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Ballot drive targets Michigan law that underpins virus rules

June 15, 2021 GMT
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FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2020 file photo, a group gathers as boxes filled with petition signatures are delivered by Unlock Michigan to the Michigan Department of State Bureau of Elections in Lansing, Mich. The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday, June 11, 2021, unanimously ordered the state elections board to certify a veto-proof initiative that would let Republican legislators wipe from the books a law Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to issue sweeping pandemic orders. (Rod Sanford/Detroit News via AP, File)
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FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2020 file photo, a group gathers as boxes filled with petition signatures are delivered by Unlock Michigan to the Michigan Department of State Bureau of Elections in Lansing, Mich. The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday, June 11, 2021, unanimously ordered the state elections board to certify a veto-proof initiative that would let Republican legislators wipe from the books a law Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to issue sweeping pandemic orders. (Rod Sanford/Detroit News via AP, File)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A conservative group said Monday it will launch a ballot drive to require legislative approval to extend emergency pandemic orders beyond 28 days — the latest bid to neuter the power of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration to issue coronavirus restrictions.

The initiative will be organized by Unlock Michigan. Last year, the Republican-affiliated ballot committee successfully gathered voter signatures to repeal a 75-year-old law — later declared unconstitutional — that underpinned the Democratic governor’s rules. After the ruling, her administration kept many limits intact, and eased and tightened them under a 1978 law that gives the state health director broad authority to issue epidemic orders.

The new measure would revise the law — whose origins date to the 1918 flu pandemic — to make such orders unenforceable after 28 days unless the Legislature OKs an extension. Local health officers who impose restrictions would need the blessing of their governing body to go longer than 28 days.

“Neither this governor, nor any future governor, will be allowed to rule by decree in the future,” Unlock Michigan spokesman Fred Wszolek said.

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The group on Tuesday will submit the form of its petition to the state elections bureau for review. If it collects roughly 340,000 valid voter signatures, the GOP-led Legislature could pass the initiative instead of letting it go to a public vote. Whitmer could not veto it. She twice has vetoed regular bills that would have added the 28-day provision.

GOP legislators are expected to soon wipe from the books the invalidated gubernatorial emergency powers law that was the backbone of her orders for seven months, after the Supreme Court unanimously ordered the state elections board to certify that initiative. Whitmer has said COVID-19 restrictions are needed to slow the spread and have likely saved thousands of lives.

“This bill would create a 28-day limit on epidemic orders. Unfortunately, epidemics are not limited to 28 days,” she wrote in a veto letter in March. “We should not so limit our ability to respond to them.”

Michigan’s outdoor gathering caps ended June 1 amid vaccinations and much lower infection rates. Indoor capacity limits will go away July 1, as will most mask requirements.

The seven-day average of new infections was 244 on Monday, the lowest rate in nearly a year. COVID-19 hospitalizations were last this low in September.

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Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00