Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, will provide members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.
- Restaurants, Bars to See Curfew Once Reopened
- Open Carry Gun Ban Adopted for Inside State Capitol
- UIA Begins Issuing $300 Supplemental Unemployment Benefits
- Wentworth Officially Speaker, Says It’s Time to Regain People’s Trust
- House GOP Seeks Supermajority for Lame Duck Bills
Restaurants, Bars to See Curfew Once Reopened
The “three-week pause” for restaurants and bars in Michigan on dine-in service will instead grow to nearly 11 under an updated order issued Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, and while Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she now hopes to allow dine-in service to resume Feb. 1, she announced there would be a curfew in place.
DHHS initially closed dine-in service Nov. 18 for three weeks. Then it was extended another 12 days. Then it extended the closure through Jan. 15. Wednesday, Gov. Whitmer confirmed publicly what Gongwer News Service and other media outlets reported Tuesday, that the closure would run through the remainder of January.
However, this time she couched it in terms of a planned reopening on Feb. 1.
“If numbers continue to head in the right direction, our hope is that we will be able to resume indoor dining with strong safety measures in place on Feb. 1,” she said. “We’re working on a path to allow indoor dining at restaurants with safety measures, such as mask requirements, capacity limits, and a curfew starting on Feb. 1.”
DHHS did announce one reopening in another sector. Indoor group fitness and exercise studios, as well as non-contact sports indoors, can resume, provided masks are worn and distance is kept.
The news angered Republicans who called for Ms. Whitmer to let restaurants reopen dine-in service Jan. 16. And restaurant industry leaders were unhappy to say the least.
Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, said DHHS had identified falling case numbers, hospitalizations, and the percentage of people testing positive as the metrics to determine when restaurants could reopen dine-in service. All have fallen dramatically since Nov. 18, he said.
“The Governor’s continuation of this pause without a plan – now expanding to 75 days – is without parallel in the nation in terms of its unwillingness or inability to provide leadership to a decimated industry and its workforce,” he said in a statement. “There are more than 100,000 unemployed hospitality workers and thousands of small operators on the edge of bankruptcy all waiting for hope and direction, and once again it did not come. This is unacceptable and we should all demand more accountability. Michigan’s restaurants have been closed for more days than any other state since the onset of the pandemic and Michigan stands alone as the only remaining statewide closure of dining rooms without a discernible, data-driven path to reopen and fully reintegrate in the economy.”
Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, said bars and restaurants were looking forward to reopening dine-in service Jan. 16 and have been long ready to reopen.
“We hope this is done right. If requirements are too restrictive, many businesses may choose to remain closed because it just won’t be worth it for them,” Ellis said in a statement. “At the end of the day, an additional two-week closure means more businesses will close their doors forever, communities will lose their gathering places and workers will find themselves desperately seeking employment in an economy that’s in shambles.”
Gov. Whitmer was asked about the anger among restaurant owners and employees at the ever-extending closure.
“The restaurant industry across the country, around the globe frankly, is struggling because we know that places where people are mixing households, taking off their masks and dining inside is inherently where we see spread. Study after study after study has shown that,” she said.
Gov. Whitmer noted restaurants can offer takeout and outdoor dining. She reiterated the state has provided assistance.
“We have done a number of things to help them try to get through this tough time. The fact of the matter is as we are looking at the numbers; we see an uptick in positivity and tests,” she said of a recent uptick in cases, though the number of new cases is still far below the November peak. “I know that people are frustrated, and it’s been a difficult thing.”
DHHS Director Robert Gordon said now is not the time for the state to lower its guard.
Asked why restaurant owners and employees should believe February 1 is when the state will let them reopen, Gov. Whitmer said the state will have to watch the coronavirus data and also noted the state is watching for the new variant of the virus.
“When this appears in Michigan, it is going to be a very concerning moment,” she said. “In the next two weeks, we’re going to continue to watch the numbers. We’re going to continue to work with the industry. It’s important that we get this right. We want to ensure that consumers, customers, workforce alike, knows that when the reengagement happens, that they’re going to be safe. That’s crucial. Consumer confidence is a very important part of our economic resurgence.”
Open Carry Gun Ban Adopted for Inside State Capitol
After months of discussion, the Michigan State Capitol Commission on Monday approved a ban on the open carry of guns inside the Capitol, a move praised in some quarters as a good start and derided in others as a half-measure that does not do enough to keep lawmakers and the public safe.
Questions about the safety of allowing firearms in the Capitol have percolated for years.
The most recent push to ban guns at the Capitol began last year following a rally in which armed individuals entered the Capitol, some of whom loomed over the Senate in that chamber’s gallery with rifles slung over their shoulders. Some of those men were later charged with plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
A ban on open carry was approved during a special meeting Monday afternoon by a 6-0 vote and is effective immediately. The ban does not cover the concealed carry of firearms, nor does it prevent guns outside on the Capitol grounds. Those who enter the Capitol with a concealed pistol will need to have a valid concealed pistol license.
Commissioner William Kandler, who worked with Commission Vice Chair John Truscott for months on reviewing the issue of guns inside the Capitol, called the move a responsible step to improve safety. Prior to the vote, Kandler said an open carry ban was as far as the commission could go due to not having a budget for extra security measures without legislative approval.
“We determined that the really extreme limit of our real authority to actually implement something was to implement a ban on open carry,” Kandler said. “We have no authority to…implement the infrastructure to go beyond that at this point, we have no budget to do it, we have no, we’re not experts in security. So, this proposal would just ban open carry in the Capitol building. We didn’t come to this conclusion lightly, but we think this is the best and most honest policy for us to implement now.”
Commissioners were expected to meet later this month, but instead chose to meet Monday in the aftermath of last week’s storming of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of pro-Trump insurrectionists who were the first to briefly occupy the nation’s seat of power for the first time in more than 200 years.
Safety concerns have been raised by Democrats since an April 2020 protest against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus response that featured some armed individuals entering the Capitol and standing in the Senate gallery. At least one of the armed individuals photographed in the gallery that day was among those arrested in connection to an alleged October plot to kidnap and possibly kill Gov. Whitmer.
Monday’s vote comes two days before the Legislature convenes to begin the 2021-22 legislative session. Lawmakers have expressed safety concerns following last week’s events in Washington, D.C., which began as a rally by supporters of President Donald Trump who have refused to accept his loss in the November 2020 presidential election.
Michigan, prior to Monday’s vote, was one of only a few states that allowed both concealed carry and open carry of firearms within its Capitol building. By contrast, Capitol rules prevent the open or concealed carry of signs inside the building due to concerns over the potential to cause damage.
In spring 2020, Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a ruling that the commission could ban guns inside the building. An outside legal opinion was obtained that reached the same conclusion.
Last week, a crowd of pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol, forcing Vice President Mike Pence and members of leadership to be whisked away to safety and the remaining members of Congress to seek shelter in secured locations. The crowd was cleared hours later, and a joint session of Congress that was meant to certify the Nov. 3, 2020, election of President-elect Joe Biden was eventually completed.
Last week’s events at the U.S. Capitol, along with a bomb threat called in to the Michigan Capitol the morning after, shone a renewed spotlight on an issue that the commission has been grappling with for about a year.
“I too am pleased that we’re at this point today in making a first step toward dealing with gun issues as they affect our Capitol,” Commissioner Joan Bauer said prior to the vote.
Commissioner Kerry Chartkoff said the issue has been tough to weigh, adding she has received thousands of emails from the public, many outlining a desire to go further and enact a total firearm ban.
“I think it’s been one of the most difficult ones to ever confront either the Capitol Commission or its predecessor, the Capitol Committee,” Chartkoff said.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) last week though a spokesperson voiced support for a ban on the open carry of guns in the building.
House Speaker-elect Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell), however, in a statement said the commission does not have the authority to enact policy inside the building.
“The speaker is grateful for the work of the Capitol Commission, but it does not have the authority to set policy in the Capitol,” the statement said. “The speaker will be looking at options for handling that moving forward. In the meantime, the Michigan State Police will be enforcing the new ruling. In order to ensure there is no confusion in the Capitol, Speaker Wentworth asks everyone to respect the Michigan State Police and the rules they enforce.”
Gov. Whitmer in a statement said the vote was a first step but she also called for a full ban.
“The Capitol Commission’s action to ban open carry guns at the Capitol is a good start, but more action is needed. On a normal day, hundreds of people walk through the Capitol, including groups of fourth-graders, teachers, and parents on school field trips to learn about state government,” Gov. Whitmer said. “That’s why we must take action to ban all weapons at the Capitol to keep Michiganders safe. I am hopeful that the Capitol Commission will recognize the need for further action, and I stand ready to assist in implementing this policy to keep Michiganders safe.”
Nessel in a statement echoed Gov. Whitmer’s words.
“Firearms – whether explicitly visible or concealed by clothing – possess the same capability to inflict injury and harm on others and only banning open carry does little to meaningfully improve the safety and security of our Capitol,” Nessel said. “I urge the commission and our Legislature to take the proper action and pass the necessary reforms that truly take into account the safety of those visiting and working in our Capitol. Today’s actions are simply not enough to do that.”
Democratic lawmakers were not impressed with the vote.
Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) in a statement said that the commission’s move fell short.
“Let me make this clear: The Capitol Commission’s proposal to ban open carry from the people’s building does not ban bullets,” Polehanki said. “Most mass shootings are carried out with handguns and dying by bullets discharged from shorter barrels is not a compromise, nor a solution. No one is safe until a complete ban on all firearms from the State Capitol is enacted and anything less is an abdication of the Commission’s responsibility.”
Polehanki last week said she went to a military surplus store to purchase safety gear to store at her Senate desk, including a helmet and gas mask. She already owns a bulletproof vest due to the April 2020 rally.
Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) expressed similar thoughts in an email to commissioners.
“Simply banning open carry is a half measure that could still lead to mayhem and bloodshed as people with intent to cause harm would still be permitted to have weapons on their person,” Geiss wrote. “After the horrific events that we saw occur on Jan. 6 at our nation’s Capitol, vigilance and prudence with respect to this decision and vote is of the utmost importance. After the April 30, 2020, rally at our Capitol…we know that improving the safety and the quality thereof is necessary as there are those who present a clear and present danger.”
Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing) on Twitter Monday said banning only open carry was not a viable option.
“The Capitol Commission’s decision today to prohibit the open carrying of firearms in the Michigan State Capitol fails to address the safety concerns that remain and does nothing to further protect the thousands of visitors and hundreds of staff who work in the building.” Hertel wrote. “Michigan is one of only nine states that allows firearms in their state Capitol. Of those nine states, Michigan is one of only three that also have no security measures in place, such as metal detectors or security screenings upon entering the building. We are the outlier here.”
House Democrats were in agreement with their Senate counterparts following the vote.
“There must be a full prohibition on carrying any firearms into the Michigan Capitol, however, I am grateful for this first step the Capitol Commission took today, given that the @ABC is reporting that there will be armed protests at statehouses between now and the inauguration.” Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham) tweeted Monday.
Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Detroit) on Twitter questioned what he considered a lack of urgency by the commission given recent events. He pointed to reports of an FBI bulletin warning of armed protests being planned at all 50 statehouses and the U.S. Capitol in the days ahead of Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
“There (are) plans to literally have ARMED demonstrations across state capitols next week. Does blood have to be spilled on the lawns of Lansing for change to happen?” Aiyash said.
UIA Begins Issuing $300 Supplemental Unemployment Benefits
Weekly Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments for $300 have begun hitting the bank accounts of Michiganders, the Unemployment Insurance Agency said in a statement Monday – however those who have filed for claims after Dec. 26 will not see these funds due to issues with technical updates.
Roughly 365,000 residents on state unemployment insurance or extended benefit programs will receive the $300 payment. The money is payable from Dec. 27, 2020, through March 13, 2021, for all eligible unemployment recipients who receive at least $1 for the week.
For those who filed in the weeks after Dec. 26, however, the UIA said it will not be able to complete certifications and payments will not be issued until technical updates to the unemployment insurance system are completed by the U.S. Department of Labor.
As of Monday, the UIA said its staff has been working nights and weekends to see through the updates and that the updates: “will only be a disruption and claimants will be made whole once the extensions are fully implemented.”
An estimated completion date was not immediately offered.
“The UIA team worked tirelessly to ensure that Michigan was one of the first states to implement the PUC program,” UIA Acting Director Liza Estlund Olson said in a statement Monday. “And now that we’ve received additional USDOL guidance we remain committed to implementing the remaining federal PUA and PEUC programs as quickly possible to get money out the door. These workers should rest assured that they will not miss out on any benefits and will receive every dollar they are entitled to once the programs are fully implemented.”
Claimants do not need to take any additional action to receive the weekly benefit as it comes following an extension of the initial payment program through the federal COVID-19 relief package passed in December.
Eleven additional weeks of benefits for those who have exhausted regular state unemployment benefits are provided through PEUC, while PUA provides unemployment benefits to those not typically eligible for unemployment, including self-employed and gig workers.
Wentworth Officially Speaker, Says It’s Time to Regain People’s Trust
House members on Wednesday put aside stark differences on the coronavirus response and deep disagreements on how some Republicans responded to the 2020 election to unanimously elect Rep. Jason Wentworth as the new speaker.
Despite the opening day of 2021-22 looking different due to the coronavirus, the day was light in the House with Republican leadership passing over a resolution to declare Jan. 16 “dine-in day,” even though the governor was announcing an extension of the closure of indoor dining at the same time.
The day also saw Clerk Gary Randall reelected to the post for the last time, as he plans to retire from the chamber this year.
Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) gave a thoughtful seconding speech to nominate Wentworth as speaker even though the two are at a disagreement on seating members who have questioned the election results without substantiated proof.
Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton) gave the first speech nominating her colleague as speaker.
Wentworth, in his first speech as the leader of the House, said the body must work to regain the trust of people in this state. He said the best way to do that, is to involve people in creating solutions to the challenges they face.
“I do believe it is our job to use our perspective to keep other elected officials and bureaucrats accountable as they make decisions on COVID and other issues. It is our job to be advocates to officials who do not have the same connection with our local communities,” Wentworth said. “It is our job to fight passionately and act as tireless advocates for them. We haven’t had enough of that state government this past year, and it shows in far too many ways. But this is not a simple partisan point. I don’t believe for a moment that this goes one way. We will hold this administration accountable to the people we represent and make sure their concerns are heard and made a priority. But I also expect the Democrats in this chamber to hold me and the members of my caucus accountable to that same standard.”
Wentworth said if the House wants to improve the handling of the pandemic and deliver solutions being demanded by residents, members must leave their comfort zones and look for new perspectives.
“For this administration, one way to do that is listen to the people so that numbers and politics don’t crowd out real world impacts we’re having on constitutional rights and citizens’ abilities to make ends meet and provide for their families,” he said. “For Republicans in this chamber, one way to do that as look outside of one’s own perspective to deliver common sense solutions across old political lines.”
Wentworth said residents expect lawmakers to put aside their differences and get things done, “and that is exactly what we are going to do.”
“We’re going to do the people’s work and we’re going to deliver the results where they matter the most. At a time where much is unpredictable, only genuine teamwork will allow us to overcome any obstacles and make the most of the next two years,” he said. “And for as many challenges that we have in front of us, we have just as many resources, dedicated servants, and proud citizens. We have every reason and opportunity to succeed. And I’m honored to be doing that work with you here in this House.”
Bollin, in her nominating speech, said in Michigan and across the country people are frustrated because they feel government is the problem, “not the conduit for solutions.”
“Because they don’t trust their elected officials or the process, and because they don’t trust each other,” Bollin said. “Such times call for a leader, who is strong and undaunted by opposition or challenge. Someone who is confident, calm, considerate, and commanding. One who is deliberate and determined, principled, and practical. Someone who knows that they are here to serve the public, not to be served. Today in Michigan, we need someone who accepts this role and understands their obligation to fulfill it with integrity, a conscience, and a respect for this institution. A person who is humble yet fearless. One who is hopeful, and one who offers hope to others.
“We need someone who understands their role as leader of one of the three co-equal branches of government. One who works well with others, and not at the expense of those we represent,” she said. “We need a leader who understands how important it is to create a culture that allows the entire company to move forward, not just a selected platoon. As a former military police officer, husband, and father, Jason Wentworth is that leader.”
Lasinski said as the new session begins, the House must move forward with bipartisan legislation, bipartisan debates, and a commitment to approach “the people’s business” with integrity.
“Perhaps more than anything else, Michiganders need hope. Over the past year, frontline workers, our health professionals, doctors, nurses, first responders, educators, grocery store clerks, truck drivers, and so many others have stepped up and put their own lives at risk to serve the people of our state. These amazing individuals represent all that is best in us, as Michiganders, and as a people,” she said. “We must emulate their selfless example to show the people of this state that their elected officials also care about what they care about most. I have no doubt that my colleague from the 97th District cares just as deeply about faithfully representing the families of this state, and upholding our oath to the state of Michigan, and the United States, as I do.”
Lasinski said after a year of division and polarization, it is incumbent upon lawmakers to show the country what can be accomplished in a bipartisan way.
“As elected officials our words and actions matter,” she said. “What we do in this chamber and how we interact with each other, reverberates far beyond these walls. We have the solemn responsibility of setting an example for how people with different ideas can still come together to get things done. And I believe we can, and I believe we will. I know my good colleague from the 97th District to be a man of integrity and honor, who has demonstrated through his military service and his dedication to the United States.”
House GOP Seeks Supermajority for Lame Duck Bills
A joint resolution requiring a two-thirds majority to pass any bills during the legislative period after an election during an even-numbered year – known as lame duck – is one of the first priorities of Speaker Jason Wentworth as he takes the reins of the House Republican Caucus and the chamber.
Wentworth (R-Farwell), who was officially chosen as speaker by the House on Wednesday, and Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield) announced government reform bills during a press conference ahead of the opening day of session.
Hornberger’s HB 4001 would prohibit members from voting on legislation that could personally benefit them or their families. The current version of the bill is likely to see changes as it works through the process, Hornberger said.
Wentworth plans to offer a joint resolution requiring a two-thirds majority to pass any bills during the lame-duck period of even-numbered years.
“I’m offering legislation to address transparency and accountability by changing the lame duck process. As legislators we have a 24-month window to create policy for people in the state,” Wentworth said. “The last month of session can be productive. But members also feel pressured to get things done and there’s not a lot of time to do that. There are a number of reasons lame duck sessions aren’t viewed very favorably. People think that members who aren’t returning aren’t necessarily accountable to voters for those last votes. And they think the Legislature waits for the lame duck to vote on controversial issues. And there’s a time crunch. Lame duck is full of many votes. And that means there’s not a lot of time to review legislation make necessary changes.”
Wentworth said changing the process would create more transparency and help ensure legislation has strong bipartisan support. It also will lead to more trust of election officials, he said.
Hornberger noted similar policies to her bill have been implemented elsewhere. She said it’s simple: no elected official should be able to vote on legislation that could benefit themselves or a relative.
“Over the years, it’s become apparent through various studies that Michigan residents do not trust their government,” she said. “That’s a huge problem. As a legislator, it’s my job to listen to the concerns of the people and implement changes to respond to their needs. This plan accomplishes that, and I’m hopeful it’s just a first step to help restore faith in our state government.”
Wentworth said other similar bills will be introduced in the coming weeks and they will move as a package.
Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, said in a statement that it is time to clean up Michigan’s government and restore the public’s trust in elected officials.
“Lame duck and conflicts of interest reforms are a good first step,” she said. “We support these reforms and hope the legislative leadership will also prioritize others, such as making the governor’s office and Legislature subject to open records laws and requiring financial disclosure by legislators. We look forward to working with any member of the Legislature who is committed to making our government truly responsive and accountable.