Dems, GOP spar over Michigan Legislature’s plans to meet amid pandemic

Michigan House Minority Leader Christine Greig says Republican's plan to reconvene next week are "legally dubious." Republican counterparts disagree and say they are taking precautions to keep members safe.

LANSING — The top Democrat and Republican in the Michigan House are at odds over how and if the Legislature should meet next week to consider a shorter emergency extension than Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is requesting amid the global coronavirus crisis.

Members and staff should not put their own health at risk to vote on a resolution that is "insufficient to address the present public health crisis and legally dubious," House Minority Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, wrote in a Saturday letter to Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering.

Greig indicated she has “grave concerns” about plans for Tuesday's session and said that if the House must meet, members should be asked to wear cloth masks or face coverings, as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In response, Chatfield said he’ll implement new screening procedures for legislators, including temperature checks, and vowed the Legislature “will continue to do its job and stand ready to address this pandemic on behalf of the people we represent."

The dispute comes less than one week after state Rep. Isaac Robinson, D-Detroit, died of an illness his family believes was COVID-19. A second legislator, Rep. Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit, has tested positive for the virus. 

Whitmer is asking the state Legislature for a 70-day extension of a declaration giving her emergency authority to respond to COVID-19. The resolution would not lengthen her stay-at-home order that is set to expire April 13 but would ensure Whitmer has continued ability to issue new or revised orders of that kind. 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has said 70 days is "too long," and both he and Chatfield have indicated the Legislature will meet Tuesday to approve a shorter extension of some kind.

That would be an "unprecedented course of action that is inconsistent with the text of the Emergency Management Act and past precedent in the Michigan Legislature," Greig argued in her letter. 

That act allows Whitmer to issue a disaster declaration that lasts up to 28 days, "unless a request by the governor for an extension of the state of disaster for a specific number of days is approved by resolution of both houses of the legislature."

According to Greig, that means the Legislature can only approve or deny the governor's 70-day request, not modify it. 

Greig also argued the expanded disaster declaration Whitmer issued last week restarted that 28-day countdown and does not expire until April 29. So if the Legislature extends her authority through April 30, for instance, that would only give her one additional day.

But Chatfield disputed that claim. The governor’s original emergency order expires April 7, and it is “our responsibility” to consider an extension, he said. 

“Your interpretation results in an obvious absurdity – that any governor could just revise and reissue declarations in perpetuity, rendering the clear language of the law and the legislative branch meaningless,” he said.

“The idea that the Legislature cannot determine the length of an extension is also inaccurate, without precedent and contrary to both state law and logic.”

Whitmer issued an original emergency declaration on March 10, the same day officials confirmed the state's first case of the coronavirus that has since killed 540 people as of Saturday afternoon. 

Whitmer rescinded and replaced that order Thursday with an expanded emergency and disaster declaration, asking the Legislature to extend it by 70 days from that point.

“To meet the steep, varied, and ongoing demands created by the COVID19 pandemic, my administration must continue to use the full range of tools available to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our state and its residents,” Whitmer told Chatfield and Shirkey last week in a letter. 

The Legislature last met on March 17, when lawmakers wrapped up a marathon session by approving a $125 million coronavirus response package.

While the House implemented some staff limitations, Greig said she was "dismayed" GOP leadership did not take additional precautions.

"The House must not repeat these mistakes," Greig said. "The pressing need for such precautions is underscored by the tragic death of our colleague, and my friend, state Representative Isaac Robinson”

Chatifled responded by letter later Saturday, suggesting Greig had already "been made aware of screening procedures" that will be put in place Tuesday. The House has a "comprehensive plan" that mirrors state and federal health guidelines. 

“Millions of Michiganders who are unaffected are showing up for work every day to keep our state moving. We’ve seen nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters, grocery store workers and many more answer the call to serve throughout these tumultuous times,” Chatfield said. “I don’t intend to leave them hanging. They haven’t put the state on hold, and we are not going to put their immediate needs on ice.”

The Senate publicly outlined meeting plans last week. 

The Capitol will be open to the public when the House and Senate convene, but anybody who enters will be screened, probably by taking their temperature, Shirkey spokeswoman Amber McCann told Bridge on Thursday. 

Senators will come into the chamber one at a time to note their attendance and then leave, leaving only a handful of people in the room at a time, until at least a quorum is reached of 20 people.

They expect to approve the measure by a voice vote, which would only require one person present in the room. “It would be a very unorthodox version of Senate session,” McCann said.

But even then, some lawmakers say meeting in person creates an unnecessary risk.

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, in a Friday editorial for the Detroit Free Press, argued legislative leaders should create a contingency plan to work remotely. She argued lawmakers should explore a provision of the state constitution that allows them to meet elsewhere during times of danger.

"Whether it’s this pandemic, another polar vortex, natural disaster, or other state emergency, the Legislature desperately needs to put contingency plans in place to allow its work to continue, uninterrupted, remotely and safely — just like so many workers, families, schools and companies across Michigan are quickly mobilizing to do," she wrote.

"Without it, we’re risking the very lives we’ve each taken an oath to represent.

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Comments

Publius
Sat, 04/04/2020 - 6:50pm

I’m sure the legislature can move into the 21st century and use video conferencing since private industry has been doing the same for decades. More importantly, the governor’s action have shown she does not merit any additional extension of dictatorial powers. I still encourage all her minions to abstain from taking HCQ and Z-pak, the only two drugs that she strangely was concerned about hoarding.

Larry
Sat, 04/04/2020 - 8:13pm

With all due respect
With a Governor who has already shown little regard to what her peers thing and has used veto power more than any other
I feel she needs to be held in check and have due process and do as she will
She criticized the President yet seeks to do has she criticized
If it were a Republican would the Dems yield the same as they ask
The answer Is NO!

Honestly
Sun, 04/05/2020 - 3:31am

Can you believe they are talking about opening everything. Someone needs to take the people that think this is a good idea and put them in a hospital where people can't get proper medical care because doctors are scared to come in and treat you. I was just released from one with kidney problems and said go home and come back. No doctor even saw me. The people working didn't even know all the symptoms for covid19. WOW. People are dying by the thousands every day since the lock down has started and the number gose up daily. I've been a trump supporter from the beginning. This man is a fool. Only thing he cares about is his businesses are feeling it now. Karma its coming for trump in 2020. Lost another vote. Been a Republican my hole life and now i have to vote Democrat. Someone needs to stop him. He's make America great again. How do you do that when your killing more by only careing what he wants. Vote him out in 2020 or will trump will be the end of America. Give the Governor of Michigan the help she and the residents need.

Honestly
Sun, 04/05/2020 - 3:31am

Can you believe they are talking about opening everything. Someone needs to take the people that think this is a good idea and put them in a hospital where people can't get proper medical care because doctors are scared to come in and treat you. I was just released from one with kidney problems and said go home and come back. No doctor even saw me. The people working didn't even know all the symptoms for covid19. WOW. People are dying by the thousands every day since the lock down has started and the number gose up daily. I've been a trump supporter from the beginning. This man is a fool. Only thing he cares about is his businesses are feeling it now. Karma its coming for trump in 2020. Lost another vote. Been a Republican my hole life and now i have to vote Democrat. Someone needs to stop him. He's make America great again. How do you do that when your killing more by only careing what he wants. Vote him out in 2020 or will trump will be the end of America. Give the Governor of Michigan the help she and the residents need.

John
Sun, 04/05/2020 - 9:40am

Sure. Vote for the dems that slowed down the stimulus package so they could add all that pork. They've got our best intrest in mind.

Bill
Mon, 04/06/2020 - 8:28am

Simply untrue. If republicans got what they wanted only large corporations would be getting relief with zero oversight. Please read what really happened and not faux news propaganda.

Kevin Grand
Sat, 04/04/2020 - 10:31pm

If the democrats are too afraid to show up for work like the few Michiganians who still do so (despite Gov. Whitmer's best attempts at decimating our state's economy), then they should just submit their resignation and go home to hide in their closets while tightly clinging onto their blankeys.

No one is preventing them from wearing their own masks, gloves or Level IV biohazard suit if they want to showboat for the media.

And Rep. Greig needs to quit attempting to move the goal posts as democrats are wont to do.

Unless the Michigan Legislature wants to add to the overall problem Gov. Whitmer created, her authority ends April 13th.

Anonymous
Mon, 04/06/2020 - 6:36am

All the Republican screening techniques are futile. Taking a temperature is meaningless. People without symptoms can still spread the virus. So yes, if our elected officials are going to be forced to meet in person as the Republicans want to do, instead of utilizing technology for remote meetings, then they should meet in hazmat suits. However, we would have to require they all wear the hazmat suits and we would have to pay for them. Otherwise "it's like sending our troops to war in flip-flops".

Sadly many Republicans seem to be incorrigible. I just watched a COVID 19 funeral online, a longtime Republican friend of mine, ardent Trump supporter, who passed a week ago Sunday. The family did the best they could with the service, under the circumstances, but it didn't really go so well. The rabbi only had an hour available for the service because with COVID 19, it's one funeral after another. Immediate family from out of state tried to login for the service and there were many technical difficulties with the wireless service in the graveyard, a lot of talking over each other. That can happen to any one of us and our families. Sobering, but real life as we know it today.

When situations change, people need to change appropriately. This is a horrific situation and I miss my dear friend, but not his rigid misguided views. He trusted the president and FOX News to his own demise. He used to spread fears about Obama taking over the country and destroying it. Now we see that Trump is doing everything my friend feared.

Don't wait for an emergency to implement the changes needed now. Try to think in advance with some clarity of mind. Listen to the scientists.
You know, if the legislature can't plan for such things in advance. Imagine how your family will deal with funerals of loved ones.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 04/06/2020 - 10:24am

You have never actually attended a government meeting, have you?

Do you believe the same people who cannot get the computers at the SoS offices and those processing UI claims to work (very short list, BTW), to now be able to coordinate video conferencing between at least 38 & 110 people without ANY difficulties?

The media will never hear the end of it from democrats complaining that their voices were not heard due to "technical difficulties".

Your funeral analogy won't even compare when that happens.

And speaking as someone who HAS gone out of his house for work and errands, the people I see somewhat regularly are taking precautions like wearing masks. wiping things down and keeping space. Contrary to the media , they're not dropping left and right.

Life itself hasn't come to a grinding halt. If it did, things would be significantly worse than they are right now.

Arjay
Sun, 04/05/2020 - 3:49am

What a power grab. 70 days? She had her chance, and by now systems and processes should be in place so that handling the disease is no longer an emergency, but rather normal procedure. But she is following the Dems playbook to never let a good catastrophe go to waste. I’d be afraid of what she would do if she even had another week.

John Chastain
Sun, 04/05/2020 - 10:04am

Meanwhile your hero Trump dithers, delay’s and deflects while the crisis grows and people sicken and die. But you’re okay with that because he makes America great again (or pretends to, which seems like enough for some). If Trump can only pretend to be competent and “systems and processes” at the federal level have been hollowed out since saint Ronnies time so it is unable to properly respond to this crisis then why would you expect better from a state government misused and mismanaged by republicans for years ? You and others like you wanted government shrunk and straggled, don’t expect it to be responsive now when we need it to be. There’s consequences to stupidity and cupidity, best learn to live (or die) with them.

Hank Dithers
Tue, 04/07/2020 - 6:02pm

I don't know. I found a list of stuff Trump did and I wouldn't characterize it as "delaying," "deflecting," or dithering? Are you not aware of these things?

WHOLE-OF-GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

President Trump declared a national emergency, inviting States, territories, and tribes to access over $42 billion in existing funding.
Trump signed legislation securing $8.3 billion for coronavirus response.
Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, ensuring that American families and businesses impacted by the virus receive the strong support they need.
To leverage the resources of the entire government, the president created a White House Coronavirus Task Force to coordinate response.
Vice President Pence named Dr. Deborah Birx to serve as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator.
The president has held multiple teleconferences with our nation’s governors to coordinate response efforts and offer his full support.
The president has approved major disaster declarations for impacted states like New York, Washington, and California.
TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

In January, Trump reacted quickly to implement travel restrictions on travel from China, buying us valuable time to respond to the virus.
The president has announced further travel restrictions on global hotspots, including Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and Iran.
American citizens returning from travel-restricted countries are being routed to specific airports, where they can be screened and isolated as needed.
The United States reached mutual agreements with Mexico and Canada to restrict non-essential travel across our northern and southern borders.
The administration announced it will expeditiously return aliens who cross between ports of entry or are otherwise not allowed to enter the country, as the facilities in which these aliens would be held cannot support quarantine for the time needed to assess potential cases.
The administration raised travel warnings to their highest level for other hot spot locations, like Japan and South Korea.
The president has expanded airport screenings to identify travelers showing symptoms and instituted mandatory quarantines.
The State Department issued a global level 4 travel advisory, urging Americans to avoid all international travel due to the coronavirus outbreak worldwide.
EXPANDING TESTING ACCESSIBILITY

The FDA issued emergency approval for new commercial coronavirus tests to significantly expand testing across the country.
The president secured legislation that will ensure Americans are able to be tested for free.
The administration is working with state and local partners and the private sector to open up drive-through testing sites.
The administration is working with the private sector to develop a website that Americans can utilize to determine whether they need a test and, if so, where to get it.
HHS is providing funding to help accelerate the development of rapid diagnostic tests for the coronavirus.
The FDA cut red tape to expand testing availability.
Admiral Brett Giroir – the Assistant Secretary for Health and head of the Public Health Service – has been appointed to coordinate coronavirus testing efforts.
The FDA is empowering states to authorize tests developed and used by laboratories in their states.
The Department of Defense has set up 15 coronavirus testing sites worldwide.
The president signed legislation requiring more reporting from state and private labs to ensure our public health officials have the data they need to respond to this outbreak.
DoD and HHS worked to airlift hundreds of thousands of swabs and sample test kits from Italy to the United States.
SUPPORTING IMPACTED BUSINESSES

The Small Business Administration has announced disaster loans which provide impacted businesses with up to $2 million.
SBA relaxed criteria for disaster assistance loans – expanding small businesses’ access to economic assistance.
The president directed the Energy Department to purchase large quantities of crude oil for the strategic reserve.
Trump has held calls and meetings with business leaders from the pharmaceutical industry, airlines, health insurers, grocery stores, retail stores, banks, and more.
The Treasury Department approved the establishment of the Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility to provide liquidity to the financial system.
HELPING FAMILIES AND WORKING AMERICANS

The administration negotiated legislation which will provide tax credits for eligible businesses that give paid leave to Americans affected by the virus.
The administration took action to provide more flexibility in unemployment insurance programs for workers impacted by the coronavirus.
The Treasury Department moved tax day from April 15 to July 15.
Trump signed legislation providing funding and flexibility for emergency nutritional aid for senior citizens, women, children, and low-income families.
USDA announced new flexibilities to allow meal service during school closures.
USDA announced a new collaboration with the private sector to deliver nearly 1,000,000 meals a week to students in rural schools closed due to the coronavirus.
The administration is halting foreclosures and evictions for families with FHA-insured mortgages.
The Department of Labor announced up to $100 million in dislocated worker grants in response to the coronavirus national health emergency.
The White House worked with the private sector to launch a central website where families, students, and educators can access online education technologies.
Trump signed legislation to provide continuity in educational benefits for veterans and their families who attend schools that have had to switch from in-person to online learning due to the coronavirus.
The Department of Education has given broad approval to colleges and universities to allow them to more easily move their classes online.
The Department of Education set interest rates on all federally-held student loans to 0% for at least 60 days.
The Department of Education announced borrowers will have the option to suspend their payments on federally-held student loans for at least two months.
The Department of Education is providing waivers for federal testing requirements to states that have had to close schools.
INFORMING THE PUBLIC

The administration launched a website – coronavirus.gov – to keep the public informed about the outbreak.
The president launched a partnership with the Ad Council, media networks, and digital platforms to communicate public services announcements about the coronavirus.
The president announced guidelines for Americans to follow and do their part to stem the spread of the virus.
The Task Force is holding nearly daily press conferences to provide the American people with the latest information.
The Task Force has recommended mitigation strategies to heavily impacted communities, like those in New York, Washington, and California.
CMS announced guidance to protect vulnerable elderly Americans and limit medically unnecessary visits to nursing homes.
SUPPORTING PATIENTS AND HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS

In January, the administration declared the coronavirus to be a public health emergency.
The president donated his fourth-quarter 2019 salary to the Department of Health and Human Services for coronavirus response efforts.
The president took action to give HHS authority to waive rules and regulations so that healthcare providers have maximum flexibility to respond to this outbreak.
CMS is giving flexibility to Medicare Advantage and Part D plans to waive cost-sharing for coronavirus tests and treatment.
CMS created new billing codes for coronavirus tests to promote better tracking of the public health response.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy coordinated with the NIH, the tech industry, and nonprofits to release a machine readable collection of 29,000 coronavirus-related research articles, which will help scientists discover insights to virus’ genetics, incubation, treatment, symptoms, and prevention.
The administration announced that health plans with health savings accounts will be able to cover coronavirus testing and treatment without co-payments.
CMS dramatically expanded telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries, ensuring more patients can access their doctors remotely while avoiding exposure.
HHS lifted HIPAA penalties to enable healthcare providers to expand telehealth access for patients.
The VA established 19 emergency operations centers across the country and put in place visitation restrictions to limit patients’ exposure.
CMS and the VA are working to limit nonessential, elective medical procedures to free up healthcare resources.
The Navy will be deploying two medical ships to help support impacted areas.
The president announced Carnival Cruise Lines will be making ships available for hospitals to use for non-coronavirus patients.
STRENGTHENING ESSENTIAL MEDICAL SUPPLIES

The president announced he is invoking the Defense Production Act.
The president signed a memorandum directing his Administration to make general-use face masks available to healthcare workers.
HHS announced it will be purchasing 500 million N95 respirators for the Strategic National Stockpile.
The Department of Defense announced it will be providing 5 million respirator masks and 2,000 specialized ventilators to assist.
The president signed legislation removing restrictions that prevented manufacturers from selling industrial masks – which can readily protect healthcare workers – directly to hospitals.
DEVELOPING VACCINES AND THERAPEUTICS

The administration is working to help accelerate the development of therapeutics and a vaccine to combat the coronavirus.
The FDA is evaluating existing drugs that could serve as potential therapeutics for coronavirus patients.
The administration is actively working with drug manufacturers to monitor any potential drug supply chain issues.
The administration is expanding research and consulting with experts to better understand the transmission of coronavirus.
The National Institutes of Health has announced the beginning of a clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine candidate.