LANSING — The Republican-led Michigan House refused Thursday to extend the state's coronavirus emergency declaration and voted to authorize a lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's authority and actions to combat the pandemic.
The step came as hundreds of conservative activists returned to the Capitol to denounce Whitmer's stay-at-home measure.
Whitmer wanted lawmakers to extend her emergency declaration by 28 days. It expires late Thursday. But at the same time, she believes she has other powers to respond to the crisis and does not need a legislatively-approved extension except to ensure that health care workers would continue to have special legal protections. She has said the state of emergency will continue regardless.
The declaration is the foundation for Whitmer's stay-at-home order and other directives aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 40,000 Michigan residents and contributed to the deaths of 3,670.
Outside the Capitol, speakers took turns addressing a crowd on the lawn. Meanwhile, drivers leaned on their horns as they traveled past, a repeat of what occurred April 15 but not close to the thousands who participated in vehicles at that time, which paralyzed traffic for miles.
Protesters' placards read, "Shut down the lockdown," "No work no freedom," and "Tyrants get the rope." Some people wore the "Don't Tread On Me" flag as a cape. Others chanted, "Lock her up," in reference to the governor. Some wore President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" hats or carried signs supporting him.
"The virus is here. It's going to be here. ... It's time to let people go back to work. That's all there is to it," said Joni George, of Flushing.
Grace Kosachuk, of Coldwater, said she opposed any extension of the governor's emergency order.
"It doesn't matter what crisis there is, you only have the power that you have, and you can't take more. And if people are going to die, I'm sorry, you only have as much power as you have," said Kosachuk.
Some angry protesters — many without face coverings — entered the Capitol and demanded to be let into the House chamber, which was closed to the public to allow room for representatives and reporters to spread apart. The crowd shouted "let us in" while masked-wearing sergeants and state police blocked them. Demonstrators were allowed in the Senate, which has fewer members and remained in session to also authorize legal action.
Whitmer on Wednesday rejected Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey proposal for a pair of one-week extensions of the emergency in exchange for giving lawmakers a say in any future stay-at-home restrictions. Shirkey said on Facebook that he hopes to "responsibly lead our state from a state of emergency to a state of regular order (and) representative democracy governance as we learn to live with and manage COVID 19."
The stay-at-home order is in effect through May 15. House Republicans wanted changes, such as allowing elective medical and dental procedures again and certainty on the date she plans to reopen the economy on a regional basis. Meanwhile, the governor has allowed some businesses, such as lawn-care companies and greenhouses, to resume operating.
Whitmer said Wednesday that Republicans "are acting as though we're in the midst of a political problem. ... This is a public health crisis." Commercial and residential construction will resume next week. A council comprised of business leaders and others is advising her on how to make decisions on gradually restarting the economy based on "facts and science and data and risk," she said.
Associated Press video journalist Mike Householder in Lansing and writer Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.