Photo via Gov. Whitmer's office
Photo via Gov. Whitmer's office

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was sued in May by the Republican-controlled Legislature over her use of emergency powers. For the second time, a court upheld her action during the coronavirus pandemic.

LANSING, MI — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency declarations and orders to curb the coronavirus clearly fall within the scope of her legal powers, the Michigan appeals court ruled Friday, rejecting a lawsuit filed by the Republican-led Legislature.

The 2-1 ruling upheld a lower judge’s decision but is expected to be appealed to the state Supreme Court. The appellate panel denied GOP lawmakers’ contention that a 1945 law only lets a governor indefinitely extend emergencies that are local, not statewide, in nature. A separate 1976 law requires the Legislature’s blessing to extend an emergency.

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The Democratic governor’s ongoing state of emergency is the underpinning of her measures to close businesses, limit gathering sizes and restrict other activities to limit COVID-19.

“We conclude that a governor has the authority to declare a statewide emergency and to promulgate reasonable orders, rules and regulations during the pendency of the statewide emergency as deemed necessary by the governor, and which the governor can amend, modify, or rescind,” Judge Jane Market wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Kirsten Frank Kelly.

“Additionally, a declared statewide emergency only ends upon the governor’s declaration that the emergency no longer exists. That has yet to occur in the instant case.”

Also Friday, Michigan was approved by the federal government to provide an additional $300 weekly benefit to 910,000 unemployed residents.

The aid, which is retroactive to Aug. 1, is an addition to the state’s regular maximum payment of $362 a week. It will come after a larger supplemental $600 weekly federal benefit expired weeks ago.

Whitmer said it is “good news” for people who remain out of work during the coronavirus pandemic but again called it a “short-term Band-Aid.” President Donald Trump signed an order adding the benefit after he and Congress failed to agree to a broader new pandemic relief plan.

Whitmer’s administration decided against offering a $400 supplemental benefit because it would have had to chip in $100 toward the higher amount.

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It is unclear when people will start receiving the money and how long it will last. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has said the additional funding may be available for roughly five or six weeks depending on how many states participate.

“Our goal now is to work as quickly as possible to implement this new program to get people the benefits they need,” said Steve Gray, director of the Unemployment Insurance Agency.