Lawmakers vote to extend emergency declaration in pandemic

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LANSING — Michigan lawmakers began voting Tuesday to lengthen Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus emergency declaration by 23 days rather than adopt a 70-day extension she requested.

The Republican-led Senate approved the shorter extension by voice vote in a short session, as senators covered their faces with masks and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, the presiding officer, wore an “Everybody Vs COVID-19” shirt. The GOP-controlled House was expected to take a similar vote later Tuesday, stretching the state of emergency through April 30.

Republicans said they had to act or else Whitmer’s emergency declaration would expire under a 1976 law. But Democrats said it would not have lapsed because she issued a declaration last week that also includes a new disaster declaration, meaning legislators did not have to vote until April 29.

Another complexity is that a 1945 law, also cited in Whitmer’s declarations and orders, gives a governor broad powers to unilaterally declare an emergency and when it has ended — without any legislative oversight.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

Lengthening Whitmer’s emergency is important because the original declaration is the basis for roughly 30 subsequent executive orders, including those telling people to stay home and closing schools and businesses. Michigan had more than 17,200 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Monday with 727 deaths.

The Legislature implemented screening and distancing procedures to limit legislators from potential exposure. Two lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, while a third has died of suspected COVID-19.

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