Unlock Michigan targets Whitmer's emergency powers in second petition drive

click to enlarge Protesters rallied against COVID-19 restrictions in Lansing in May 2020. - STEVE NEAVLING
Steve Neavling
Protesters rallied against COVID-19 restrictions in Lansing in May 2020.

Unlock Michigan, a conservative group caught using unethical practices to gather signatures for a ballot initiative last year, will launch a second petition drive aimed at curbing the state’s emergency powers.

The initiative seeks to limit epidemic orders to 28 days unless the Legislature approves an extension. It’s the group’s latest attempt to curb the ability of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration to impose restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 19,500 Michigan residents.

In October, the group submitted 539,000 signatures to trigger a ballot initiative to repeal the 1945 emergency powers law that authorized Whitmer to impose restrictions to keep residents safe during a pandemic. The Michigan Supreme Court later struck down the law.

In undercover videos taken during the signature drive, petition circulators were caught using unethical tactics, such as gathering signatures without witnessing them, circulating petitions by trespassing on private property, and deceiving voters.

Following an investigation, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in April that she would not file criminal charges against the group, citing “a lack of sufficient admissible evidence.” But, she added, the investigation uncovered "clear misrepresentation by the petition circulators and questionable training by persons who recruited and were supported to supervise paid circulators."

The latest petition drive seeks to change the public health code to prevent Whitmer’s administration from enforcing orders beyond 28 days without legislative approval.

The group plans to submit its petition language to the Bureau of Elections for review as early as Tuesday.

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