Michigan Governor Pares Virus Order After Political Blowback

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday scaled back the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus while also extending the state’s main social-distancing mandate through May 15.

The update to Michigan’s shelter-in-place order removes requirements that received broad state and national criticism, including prohibitions on boating, garden centers, and rules closing parts of big box stores that sold what Whitmer deemed to be unessential goods, such as paint and furniture. Other retailers selling nonessential goods also are free to re-open, so long as purchases are made through remote sales and sent via delivery or picked up at the businesses’ curbside.

“I know there’s been a lot of discussion about these restrictions. I know they’ve been seen as inconsistent or confusing,” Whitmer (D) said Friday during a Lansing press conference. “The thing about public health is if you do it well you never know how many people you’ve saved.”

The order reopens segments of the state economy including bike repair and landscape services, and includes new provisions requiring the wearing of face coverings in “enclosed public spaces” such as grocery stores.

Businesses are required to provide face coverings for workers under the revised order.

Michigan’s Republican-led House convened in a special session to create an oversight committee to scrutinize Whitmer’s emergency orders. The Senate on Friday opened its own special session and passed Senate Bills 857 and 858 that would limit Whitmer’s authority to close down businesses and impose social-distancing rules in response to the coronavirus. The vote on both bills was 22 to 15, with one excused.

Whitmer’s orders spurred a “gridlock” protest last week in which drivers circled the Michigan capitol and flouted social-distancing rules. Echoing slogans from the protest Sen. Ed McBroom (R) opened the Michigan Senate session Friday with a prayer, saying, “We need to save our society, our culture, our way of life, and our desperate need to reestablish liberty for people across this land.” He also asked that god help Whitmer “hear her people.”

“In regard to any of the blatantly political conversations about taking power away from my office, I will reiterate for the umpteenth time that I will not sign any bill that takes away power from me or from any future executive,” Whitmer said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com

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