Government Affairs Update – September 4, 2020
Senate Bill 745, Supplemental Appropriations Measure
On Wednesday, September 2, the Michigan Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 745, which purposes federal money to increase unemployment payments to $300 a week alongside sending additional funding to the Midland and Detroit areas for natural disaster relief. In total, the measure includes $2.9 billion for unemployment and $6 million for flood relief. The bill had already passed the House and will now be sent to the Governor's desk for signature.
This development comes after Governor Whitmer’s administration applied in August to the federal government for the unemployment benefit increase, citing “there is an unprecedented number of Michiganders who have lost work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Under this program, about 910,000 Michiganders would be receiving the supplemental benefits.
House Bill 5836, Language Acquisition and Development of Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
House Bill 5836 would amend the Revised School Code to require the Michigan Department of Education to develop and provide resources, tools, and assessments for parents and educators to use to track and monitor deaf and hard of hearing children’s expressive and receptive language acquisition toward English literacy.
Michigan currently does not have a language acquisition milestone program for children under age 5 that use American Sign Language, that children hearing, deaf, or hard of hearing do if they use the English Language. Legislative staff are working with a group of ASL leaders to create an advisory board that will create milestones so that parents with deaf or hard of hearing children will have access to all tools and resources.
Democrats Nursing Home Package
On the heels of the Governor’s veto of a largely partisan package aimed at addressing the state’s COVID-19 response in nursing homes, a 10-bill package speared mostly by House Democrats was introduced on September 1. Similar to the Republican bill vetoed by Governor Whitmer, House Bills 6137 – 6146 would require dedicated facilities for long-term residents who test positive. The package entails several reforms, including a minimum wage for nursing home employees, and seeks to address the problems in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that existed before COVID-19 but were exposed due to the pandemic.
The introduction of the bill package coincided with Governor Whitmer’s bipartisan Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force released their final recommendations on August 31.
The recommendations include:
- Continuing to use the regional hub program with strengthened guidance and protocols as Care and Recovery Centers
- Identifying and coordinating with hospitals with excess surge capacity
- Improving the coordination of personal protective equipment distribution and allocation
- Securing funding for continuous testing of nursing home residents
- Exploring options for creating dedicated facilities/alternative care settings
- Improving support of physical and mental health for staff
- Increasing opportunities for safe visitation
The Fiscal Year 2020-2021 Budget
Discussions continue on the budget behind the scenes, although as of this week, subcommittee chairs did not have their targets. Once targets are released, we can expect an aggressive timeline to get the budget done before the next fiscal year beginning on October 1.
While numbers are still in flux, what we do know is that most of the decisions will be concentrated at the top, largely among the legislative Appropriations chairs and the State Budget Director.
Legislative business resumed the first week of September and is widely expected to continue through the end of the month when the legislature breaks to hit the campaign trail.
COVID-19 Executive Authority & Action
State of Emergency and Disaster Declaration Extended
On Thursday, September 3, Governor Whitmer issued Executive Order 177, which extends the state of emergency declaration under the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945 and subject to pending litigation, extends the state of emergency and state of disaster under the Emergency Management Act of 1976.
This Executive Order rescinds EO 2020-165 and is effective through October 1, 2020, at 11:59 pm.
Restrictions on Businesses Relaxed
On Thursday, September 3, Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued two executive orders that allow for gyms, sports facilities, pools, and a limited amount of ice rinks and bowling alleys to open while operating under specific workplace safety measures. Indoor movie theaters and performance venues will remain closed for the time being.
Executive Order 2020-175 outlines workplace safety measures for gyms and indoor pools. Gyms are to require masks at all times, even when exercising, and configure workout stations or implement protocols to create six feet of distance between individuals. Equipment cleaning products must be available throughout the facility at all times.
Additionally, spectators for indoor sports are limited to guests of the athletes whereas each athlete can bring up to two designated guests. For outdoor events, organizers must limit the audience to two guests per athlete or a total limit of one hundred people or fewer, which includes athletes, coaches, and staff.
Under Executive Order 2020-176, bowling alleys and roller and ice rinks may reopen for the purpose of hosting organized sports by an association with safety protocols. Contact sports may resume under this order, in time for the beginning of the fall school year, but strict protocols and safety standards must be in place.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has provided Public Guidance for Contact Sports that includes mitigations measures and safety protocols. Despite the authorization of contact sports provided for under the order, the guidance still recommends against contact sports at this time, meaning those sports "involving more than occasional and fleeting contact." According to the Governor’s office, this includes football, basketball, and soccer.
The orders go into effect on Wednesday, September 9, 2020.
Challenges to Governor's Emergency Authority
On August 21, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in Michigan House of Representatives an Senate v. Governor, that Governor Gretchen Whitmer's declaration of a state emergency, the extensions of the state of emergency, and the issuance of emergency orders falls within the scope of the Governor's authority under the emergency, and the issuance of emergency orders falls within the scope of the Governor's authority under the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945
The case, brought forward by the Republican-controlled legislature, challenged Governor Whitmer’s actions stating that the governor does not have the power to leave Michigan in a state of emergency for more than 28 days without legislative approval under the Emergency Management Act of 1976. However, Governor Whitmer stated she has relied on the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945, which sets no time limit for an emergency nor does it require legislative approval.
The office of Governor Gretchen Whitmer released the following statement: “[Governor Whitmer] will continue to do what she’s always done: take deliberate, measured actions to protect Michiganders from this unprecedented threat. This lawsuit is a dangerous and costly attempt to take away the governor’s power to respond to the COVID-19 emergency and save lives. We owe it to our frontline heroes who have been putting their lives on the line to pull together as a state and work as one team to stop the spread of this virus."
Republican lawmakers appealed the ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court and filed a motion for immediate consideration which most expect will be granted as oral arguments have already been scheduled in the Michigan Supreme Court related to a separate case on the same topic in early September.
Governor Whitmer Extends Executive Order Protecting Vulnerable Populations in Congregate and Residential Facilities
Executive Order 2020-174 extends existing order 2020-156, which provides for limited and temporary restrictions on the entry of individuals into health care facilities, residential facilities, congregate care facilities, and juvenile justice facilities. The order also requires risk reduction and testing protocols but empowers the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to identify exceptions to the restrictions.
The new order is effective through September 30, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.
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