With 25 cases of confirmed presumptive positive coronavirus in the state as of Friday night, every Michigan resident is feeling the pressure of the pandemic that’s prompted school and university closures, mass cancellations of sports and community events and calls to limit in-person contact as much as possible.
That includes members of the Michigan legislature, whose leaders adopted procedural changes this week. In addition to those precautions, some lawmakers have put forward policy plans aimed at dealing with issues residents are facing.
As of now, the Michigan legislature will continue to meet for the next few weeks as needed at the discretion of the House Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader, with additional precautions in place. All scheduled Senate committees for next week have been canceled.
Both chambers have a legislative break scheduled to start March 27 and end April 14.
This week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer moved to declare a state emergency and announced all K-12 schools would be closed and all public events over 250 people would be banned until April 6.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said in a Friday statement he supported the governor’s action: “While this action may seem severe, we believe it is appropriate,” he said.
“As a state and as individuals, we need to focus on the actions we can take to help slow the spread of the virus in Michigan,” he said. “By slowing the spread of COVID-19, we may be able to change the surge of patients from growing into a steep mountain peak and instead help create a more manageable hill.”
Below are some of the ways Michigan lawmakers have proposed dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. For all of MLive’s coronavirus coverage, visit MLive.com/coronavirus.
Limit session and send at-risk staff home
Both Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, announced new operations protocol Thursday to limit possible exposure to the coronavirus.
Both chambers will now let staff over 60 or with underlying health conditions work from home, as well as non-essential staff. Essential, non-vulnerable staff will continue to report to work on session days under the new policies.
In the House, all staffers may work from home on non-session days unless directed to do so by their supervisor.
In the Senate, session days will only be scheduled “only as needed,” per a statement from Shirkey and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint.
Shirkey will evaluate the need for session on a weekly basis.
Both chambers will prohibit all non-essential out-of-state work travel by employees and suspend all tours and public events. The measures will remain in place until April 20.
Members of the public will still be able to attend committees and House and Senate sessions.
Put $25 million towards prevention and response
This week, both the Michigan House and Senate overwhelmingly approved a supplemental spending bill that included a combined $25 million in funding for coronavirus response and prevention.
Senate Bill 151 includes $10 million for various state departments preparing for and responding to coronavirus. Another $15 million in the bill would be put into a Coronavirus Response fund to be available “as needs related to the Coronavirus are identified,” according to a House Fiscal Agency report.
That is in addition to the $14.6 million in federal funding the state is set to receive from the Centers for Disease Control.
Lawmakers aren’t ruling out the possibility of allocating more money as needed to limit the spread of the disease.
The legislation now heads to Whitmer for final review.
Stop price gouging on health products
Hand sanitizer and other sanitary products are becoming more scarce with the onset of coronavirus, Michigan officials are warning consumers against price gouging – and new legislation in the Michigan Senate aims to stop it from happening during emergencies.
The bipartisan bills backed by Sens. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, and Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, and Attorney General Dana Nessel would define price gouging as businesses raising prices above 10 percent of what consumer goods, lodging or energy products cost immediately prior to an emergency situation.
Sellers would be given the opportunity to demonstrate that the increase was justified, according to the Attorney General’s office. The legislation would add punishments for those found in violation of price gouging and give state and local prosecutors more leeway to investigate and pursue price gouging cases.
Nessel’s office issued a warning about possible price gouging last week after learning a west Michigan store was selling individual face masks for $10 each in Ziploc bags.
Require more coronavirus reporting, and cover costs of care
A package of bills sponsored by state Reps. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown, Cara Clemente, D-Lincoln Park, and Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham, would require additional reporting of coronavirus cases and require both Medicaid and private insurance to fully cover coronavirus costs.
The package of bills, House Bills 5629-5633 and House Resolution 242, would also create a “pandemic outbreak fund” to cover additional costs for those impacted by the disease and require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a pandemic preparedness plan for future cases.
Revert changes to citizen-initiated paid sick leave policy
Under Michigan law, eligible workers can currently earn one hour of sick time for every 35 hours worked, and can accrue 40 hours total of paid sick leave. That policy is required for businesses with more than 50 employees.
But that policy remains controversial, as it was the product of the legislature adopting a broader citizen-led initiative and significantly amending it later on instead of letting it go to the ballot.
Under the original proposal, workers could have accrued 40 hours of paid sick leave and earned one hour of sick time for every 35 hours worked. An employee could have also earned 72 hours per year of paid sick time if they worked at larger businesses or 40 hours per year if they worked at small businesses with under 10 employees.
Some lawmakers believe restoring the original policy would do more to help Michigan workers stay safe, and give those who are sick a better chance at healing without infecting others. Rep. Padma Kuppa, D-Troy, introduced House Bill 5628 this week to revert the law back to the citizen-led language.
“Without the ability for our workers to stay home when they are sick, it can become a health concern for us all,” Kuppa said in a statement. “The spread of this virus once again reinforces our need for immediate action on this issue.”
Michigan’s State Emergency Operations Center is coordinating state-government resources and the response to the coronavirus spread. It has shared the following tips:
What you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases:
• Always cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue or sleeve.
• Stay home if you are sick and advise others to do the same.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
• Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, if soap and warm water are not available.