April 23 | This Week in Government: House, Senate Slash Whitmer Programs in LEO; No Charges Filed in Duggan Probe

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.

  1. House, Senate Slash Whitmer Programs in LEO; MIOSHA Targeted
  2. House Subcommittees Recommend Quarterly Budgets
  3. Nessel: No Charges Filed in Unlock Michigan or Duggan Probes
  4. Benson: Some GOP Election Bills Violate Constitutional Law
  5. House Leaders Agree to Bipartisan Gov’t Ethics Reform Package

House, Senate Slash Whitmer Programs in LEO; MIOSHA Targeted

The Michigan Reconnect program and the Future for Frontliners would be removed from the 2021-22 budget under a proposal moved by a House subcommittee on Tuesday that also would require the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration to reimburse businesses for any fines related to coronavirus violations.

A Senate subcommittee went further with MIOSHA, slashing funding to the agency by 20% (see more details on the Senate version of the budget below).

HB 4398, the general government budget reported by the House Appropriations General Government Subcommittee by a party-line vote, includes appropriations for the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

Like most agency budgets recommended by House subcommittees on Tuesday, LEO’s budget would be quarterly. HB 4398 would include $403.38 million, far below the full-year recommended by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of $1.8 billion.

The budget, like most others, also gets rid of all but one unclassified positions, presumably to allow for the department director to remain. Other unclassified employees include deputy directors and legislative liaisons.

The House budget would not include $120 million for the Michigan Reconnect program, providing last-dollar scholarships to those older than 25 seeking a post-secondary certificate, $39.1 million for the Futures for Frontliners program seeking to provide educational opportunities for employees in industries disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 nor would it provide $35 million for the annual debt service associated with the Flint water crisis settlement.

A separate supplemental proposal would pay the full amount for the Flint water crisis settlement.

Additionally, the budget in boilerplate would require MIOSHA to return any fines levied on employers between April 30 and Oct. 13, 2020. It would also prohibit MIOSHA from identifying in press releases specific employers who violated emergency rules.

The House budget would retain $1 million General Fund for a biomedical research support grant for Van Andel Institute, something removed in the executive budget. It would also provide $1 million each for a child care provider and expansion grant for starting a child care provider business and for infrastructure improvements at the Michigan Career and Technical Institute.

Further, the proposal would provide $660,000 General Fund for a nonprofit that providers services to parolees and probationers assessed by the Department of Corrections as moderate or high-risk, $200,000 to small business development centers in certain regions and would increase by $500,000 funds to the Rural Jobs and Capital Investment Fund, money removed by the executive budget.

The House proposal would also reduce by $5.9 million funds to business attraction and community revitalization. It also would not include $15 million in additional funding to the Going Pro program, $3 million for a statewide pre-apprenticeship program helping those who are unemployed or underemployed, $10 million for the Housing and Community Development Fund to assist with low-income housing needs.

Another $25 million recommended by the governor for various mobility projects also was not included in the House proposal, and neither was $1 million for research seeking to improve the effectiveness of state benefit programs.

The House did agree to $2.2 million for pilot programs related to child savings accounts to provide grants for matching purposes. The proposal also agreed to $1.1 million for brownfield redevelopment.

Also included in the House proposal in a new item is $4 million to support ongoing fraud detection efforts in the Unemployment Insurance Agency. It did not agree to authorize 500 full-time employees in the agency.

In boilerplate, the budget would require the Pure Michigan campaign to prioritize sectors of the economy that were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. It would also require the UIA to submit quarterly reports on expenditures and require the agency to open all of its branch offices full time.

SENATE LEO BUDGET LEAVES OUT WHITMER PRIORITIES, SLASHES MIOSHA: The Senate version of the 2021-22 fiscal year budget for the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity funds the full year, unlike the House, but it still chops funding priorities from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

And it takes a big swipe at the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has fined a number of employers for violating COVID-19 workplace rules, cutting funding by 20%, or $6.1 billion. The budget also reduces the number of full-time equivalent employees at MIOSHA by 39, down from 197.

SB 85 also omits a $122,700 increase for salary increases for unclassified employees in the department that Ms. Whitmer recommended.

The Senate Appropriations Labor and Economic Opportunity/MEDC Subcommittee rejected the proposal from Gov. Whitmer to increase funding for the Michigan Reconnect Program from $30 million to $120 million.

Additionally, Gov. Whitmer’s proposals for $39.1 million for the Futures for Frontliners program, $25 million for the Mobility Futures Initiative, $10 million for Housing and Community Development, $6 million for wraparound services, and a handful of smaller items were omitted from the budget the subcommittee approved.

The subcommittee approved a $15 million increase to the Pure Michigan tourism promotion program, up from $25 million in the current year. Gov. Whitmer had recommended no change.

Both the subcommittee and the Governor recommended increases for the Going Pro program, though went about it in different ways. Gov. Whitmer recommended a $15 million one-time increase on top of $28.7 million in ongoing funding. The subcommittee instead approved an $11.3 million increase in ongoing funding.

Overall, the Senate budget contains $1.67 billion ($229.1 million General Fund). That’s $163.3 million less than Gov. Whitmer’s recommendation ($192.1 million less General Fund). It is a 1% reduction from current year spending (8.9% reduction General Fund).

House Subcommittees Recommend Quarterly Budgets

Funding for most state agencies would be done on a quarterly basis, a far step away from the traditional process for state government, under budget proposals advanced by House subcommittees on Tuesday.

House Republicans said the quarterly budget, instead of appropriating funds for the full 2021-22 fiscal year like usual, would assist in oversight of taxpayer spending. It was not used, however, in budgets for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the Department of State Police, the Office of the Auditor General, the Legislature nor the Executive Office.

The House subcommittees also moved to prohibit “vaccine passports,” or proof of vaccination status for state employees and to require reports on severance payments in the boilerplate of agency budgets.

Gongwer News Service requested an interview with House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) about the dramatic change in appropriations.

Instead, House Republicans provided a statement from him in which he said quarterly budgeting would not be used in education or “certain areas” of the Department of Health and Human Services’ budget, which were not taken up on Tuesday. He also said it would not be used in public safety.

“One of the Legislature’s main missions is oversight of how taxpayer money is spent. Moving to a quarterly system for reviewing and approving budgets will help us fulfill that mission. This change ensures more accountability, efficiency, and transparency by building it right into the system four times a year through legislative review. It will help us ensure, on behalf of Michigan taxpayers, that their money is spent as intended,” Albert said. “Outside of government, quarterly budgeting is common. It helps businesses and even many families keep their finances on track. It makes sense for state government to use a similar process.”

State Budget Director Dave Massaron in a statement called quarterly budget “a particularly silly position.”

“It is a normal part of the process for each chamber to stake out its position and then begin in earnest working on a budget together. I look forward to target setting after the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference in May and bringing this process to conclusion,” he said. “I will say that some House subcommittees this year decided to stake out a particularly silly position with three-month budgeting. Three-month budgeting doesn’t work in the private sector, anyone’s personal finances, and certainly not for government. It’s odd that former Governor Snyder received praise for bringing a long-term view of budgeting to state government, yet now they want to implement a three-month budgeting practice that has never been done before.”

Indeed, 10 years ago, Snyder and legislative Republicans made a big push toward two-year budgeting. Democrats also heralded the move. While the second year of a two-year budget is non-binding, it does set forth general expectations.

On Tuesday, the House advanced quarterly budget proposals for the Department of Natural Resources, the Department Agriculture and Rural Development, the Department of Attorney General, the Department of Civil Rights, the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, the Department of State, the Department of Technology, Management and Budget and the Department of Treasury.

The Michigan Environmental Council, the National Wildlife Federation, AFSCME Council 25, the Michigan Nurses Association, and the AFL-CIO blasted the budget moves by the House GOP.

“Republicans have decided to shred any hope for bipartisanship in Lansing with yet another misguided attempt to hurt the governor, but the only people this political stunt will hurt is the people they’re supposed to be working for,” Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “This so-called budget is nothing more than an expression of their unhinged anger that the governor has dared to act to protect people from a deadly virus over the last year. They should be ashamed, and they should get to work on a real budget.”

Nessel: No Charges Filed in Unlock Michigan or Duggan Probes

While individuals working with Unlock Michigan were found to have lied to and misled signatories of the petition initiative, actions “do not rise to the level that would support criminal charges,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said Wednesday in announcing there would be no charges filed against anyone related to the effort.

News of the lack of charges came during a press conference, where Nessel also announced that no charges would be filed against Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan for his involvement with the nonprofit Make Your Date. He had been accused of prioritizing the nonprofit when distributing grants subsidized through taxpayer dollars while having a romantic relationship with the program’s founder.

Regarding the Unlock Michigan investigation, Nessel said that her office had examined the evidence against nine individuals but that there was “a lack of sufficient, admissible evidence to bring criminal charges against anyone involved.” She did, however, say that it was not Unlock workers who potentially broke the law but rather one of those involved with the Keep Michigan Safe organization trying to stop the initiative who crossed the line.

Issues against the initiative stemmed from allegations that paid circulators were purposefully misleading individuals signing the petition, which sought to repeal a 1945 law Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to keep Michigan under a state of emergency during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

This began with Unlock hiring National Petition Management to aid in its signature-gathering process. The group then brought on In the Field and Let the Voters Decide, two companies tasked with gathering signatures on the east and west sides of the state, respectively. Heading circulation efforts for In the Field was Erik Tisinger and for Let the Voters Decide was Mark Jacoby.

Tisinger was the subject of video taken at one point while training circulators, advising attendees that people who signed the initiative would allow for the petition to get on the ballot so that voters could weigh in on revoking the governor’s powers. In reality, that was never the case. The petition was always intended to be sent to the Legislature for consideration.

He also advised unethical signature-gathering tactics during training, advising that circulators play dumb if caught so that they would not get in trouble. These remarks were taped by a man named Richard Williamson, employed by the firm Farough and Associates, by way of a pen that doubled as a camera. That firm is headed by Dan Farough, a longtime Democratic operative.

Farough was hired by the group Keep Michigan Safe, which opposed Unlock Michigan’s goal of repealing the 1945 law.

“Our investigation established that (Tisinger) is fully aware of the requirements of the law and seems to relish finding ways to skirt the rules as demonstrated by how he instructed circulators in various ways,” Nessel said. “Though comments made by Tisinger during the training sessions are unethical, possibly even immoral, they do not rise to a level that would support criminal charges. They are simply not sufficient to establish that the necessary intent to encourage or solicit criminal activity by those circulating petitions in support of Unlock Michigan.”

Farough’s staff was also involved in recording other instances of misconduct – three in total: one at the Brighton Farmer’s Market, another at the restaurant Falcon’s Nest, and at the Howell Western Wear Store. In each instance, Gretchen Hertz – an attorney and Farough employee – attempted to sign a petition at each location, asking if she could also sign the name of her husband as well.

In every encounter, Hertz is told that she can, and in at least one instance she signs for the name Michael Hertz and does not cross the name out. This, Nessel said, is against state law as there is a provision which bars a voter from signing someone else’s name to a ballot question petition (Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misrepresented penalties for signing another person’s name to a ballot question).

However, state law does not prohibit circulators from making false statements to a voter about the purpose of a petition to try and gain their signature. It also does not impose any criminal sanctions for making misrepresentations to a voter to induce them to sign a ballot question petition.

There is also no provision which imposes criminal sanctions for misrepresenting a petition, or any law that prohibits a circulator from advising a voter that they could sign their spouse’s name – or the name of any person, for that matter – on a petition.

In attempting to catch Unlock Michigan doing something illegal, Nessel said, Hertz and Farough created a “significant hurdle” in pursuing charges against the group as they crossed the line “between simply witnessing and recording, and inducing criminal conduct.”

“Ms. Hertz went from simply recording illegal conduct to engaging in criminal conduct herself,” she said, adding that attempts to interview her were unsuccessful.

Nessel said that Hertz would only agree to an interview if she was assured her words would not be used against her in a court of law. When that could not be guaranteed, Nessel said it rendered the video evidence Hertz had gathered as useless because “without someone laying the legal foundation or admitting the videos at trial, we would not be able to use them in any proceeding.”

“There can be no doubt that many of the statutes imposing criminal sanctions were violated during the circulation of the Unlock Michigan petition,” Nessel said. “However, for a variety of reasons, criminal prosecution is simply not feasible here.”

Following the announcement, Keep Michigan Safe spokesman Mark Fisk said in a statement that while the group was disappointed in the results of the investigation, the probe’s findings “make it more important than ever that the Board of Canvassers and Secretary of State should investigate the unethical and illegal practices of Unlock Michigan before considering certification.”

“While we’re disappointed the Attorney General’s investigation was unable to hold Unlock Michigan accountable for its actions, the Board of Canvassers and the Secretary of State have an obligation to thoroughly investigate the petition as detailed in our challenge,” Fisk said, alluding to the 40-page challenge the group initially filed against Unlock Michigan’s gathered signatures.

His statement offered no comment regarding Hertz’s alleged violations of the Michigan Election Law.

Keep Michigan Safe has also filed a lawsuit in the Court of Claims, asking for a judge to halt the review of the petition due to what they believe are “numerous flaws, improprieties and flagrant violations of election law.” This is, by most accounts, a long shot.

Unlock Michigan spokesperson Fred Wszolek fired back at the mention of the lawsuit, via Twitter, writing: “If @MarkBrewerDems had any sense, he’d withdraw his nonsense complaint in front of the Board of Canvassers, withdraw his frivolous motions in the Court of Claims, and go away quietly for a while.”

Mark Brewer, former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, serves as the attorney for Keep Michigan Safe.

Wszolek later told Gongwer News Service that the decision has “been a long time coming.”

“We’re excited that the last obstacle has been removed from the Board of State Canvassers doing its legal duty tomorrow to certify our petitions,” he said in a statement. “Since the attorney general has made clear that the only actual documented crimes committed were those committed by operatives working for Mark Brewer and Keep Michigan Safe, we’d expect Brewer to withdraw his frivolous complaint to the board and motions before the Court of Claims.”

Unlock Michigan’s initiative petition is scheduled to come before the Board of State Canvassers at 10 a.m. Thursday for consideration of sufficiency after the Bureau of Elections earlier this week determined the group had gathered enough signatures to have the petition certified and sent to the Legislature.

The meeting will be streamed online.

NO CHARGES IN MAKE YOUR DATE PROBE: Also Wednesday, Nessel announced that the Department of Attorney General’s investigation into the Detroit nonprofit program Make Your Date concluded that Duggan – who strongly supported the initiative with federal grants, but also had a personal relationship with its director – exhibited no criminal wrongdoing.

Make Your Date is a free maternal health program designed to prevent pre-term births for at-risk mothers in Detroit and is affiliated with Wayne State University.

The initial impetus of the investigation was to determine whether there was criminal conduct associated with Duggan’s office in specifying that Make Your Date Detroit was a priority and providing it with taxpayer funds. There was also an issue raised with Duggan then-Chief of Staff Alexis Wiley having ordered the destruction of emails by employees regarding their communications related to fundraising activities on behalf of the Make Your Date Detroit program.

As part of the investigation, the Department of Attorney General interviewed or reinterviewed 21 witnesses, reviewed more than 1,500 pages of financial documents from the Detroit Health Department, Southeast Michigan Health Association, and WSU, executed search warrants and reviewed more than 1 million documents seized with the aid of the Department of State Police from the city’s information technology department.

The Department of Attorney General also reviewed documents from the Charitable Trust Section, Office of Inspector General report and other additional documents from the city including its procurement ordinances and policies, email use policy, records retention policies, Detroit City Charter, and every Freedom of Information Act request from Nov. 13, 2018, through June 15, 2019, related to Make Your Date Detroit. It also reviewed Detroit Health Department grant plan submissions and the known civil lawsuits against Detroit related to FOIA litigation.

Specifically, Nessel’s investigation focused on two conversations between Wiley and Ryan Fredrichs, Office of Development and Grants director, which occurred in December 2018 and February 2019. Emails were also deleted during that same time frame.

The erasure of emails was evaluated for potential FOIA violations, which is a civil offense, and other criminal statutes were considered as part of the investigation including bribery of a public official, embezzlement by a public official, destruction of public records, and destruction of evidence in future proceedings.

After reviewing all evidence, Nessel said, no criminal charges could be sustained against any city employee.

“I would like to note that the absence of adequate evidence to charge individuals with crimes does not absolve the parties of their ethical obligation to meet the expectations of public trust inherent to their roles as employees and officials of the City of Detroit,” she said. “I believe there is ample opportunity to improve upon the operations of city government, especially with regard to transparency and accountability to the residents of Detroit.”

Benson: Some GOP Election Bills Violate Constitutional Law

Some of the election law changes proposed by Republicans in the Legislature would violate the state and U.S. constitutions, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Wednesday.

Benson continued to step up her attacks on the legislation with a news conference featuring Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and others.

One of the unknowns as the Republican legislative majorities prepare to press forward with bills that would set new requirements to vote via absentee ballot, toughen the voter identification mandate, change the size of some local canvassing boards and more is whether they would violate Proposal 3 of 2018, which added Section 4 to Article II of the Michigan Constitution.

That constitutional amendment makes clear voters have the right to cast a ballot, either in person or absentee. It also gives the Legislature the power to “enact laws to regulate the time, place and manner of all nominations and elections, to preserve the purity of elections, to preserve the secrecy of the ballot, to guard against abuses of the elective franchise, and to provide for a system of voter registration and absentee voting.”

Benson said her priority right now is to focus a message to the Legislature as it prepares to move legislation about how “bad and pernicious these policies will be for the people they serve.” But Benson did say the bills could run afoul of constitutional law.

“I do believe that many of the provisions in this package potentially violate numerous constitutional provisions at the state and federal level, not the least of which is the right that citizens have voted to give themselves to have the right to vote absentee,” she said. “So those types of things will continue to be discussed as these policies move forward and also will illuminate as has happened in other states various pathways to challenging any of these policies that would potentially violate the constitution in future moments.”

Benson also was asked about how the bills would scrap the current voter ID law that says voters can either present a photo identification at the polls when voting in person or sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury that they are the person they claim to be. Instead, the bills would require voters to present photo ID. Those who do not will be given a provisional ballot that only would be counted if they present photo identification to their clerk within six days.

Further, there would be a photo identification requirement for absentee voters. Currently, absentee ballot identities are monitored by checking a person’s signature on the envelope with their ballot against their signature in the state’s Qualified Voter File. Under the legislation, an absentee voter would have to send a photocopy of a photo ID with their application for an absentee ballot.

“This is another example of something that enables a … legislator to say look we’re doing more to protect the security of elections, we’re protecting the integrity of the process,” Benson said of the identification requirement and use of the provisional ballot. “But there’s no evidence that this is necessary. There’s no evidence that the current system hasn’t been working efficiently and effectively. But there’s plenty of evidence that this would require additional burdens that would deter someone from participating.”

Chris Thomas, the state’s former elections director, said in an email that the Senate legislation misuses the provisional process. The provisional ballot was created as a mechanism for a voter who shows up to vote at the polls but is not in the pollbook, he said.

“There is no real question whether the voter is registered,” he said of how the bill would use the provisional process. “He is as his name is on the list. He may have a long voting history but does not have his ID with him. He is now relegated to two-step voting. Complete the provisional ballot on election day and then within six days after the election make a trip to the clerk’s office to present his ID. We know that it is rare for a person to take the second step. Without any showing of fraud, it is hard not to ascribe suppression motives to this.”

Thomas also noted the 2007 Michigan Supreme Court ruling that upheld the state’s photo identification requirement because the burden on voters to instead sign an affidavit was reasonable and nondiscriminatory.

Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), chair of the Senate Elections Committee, called Benson’s news conference “WWE for politics.” She said the bills haven’t even gone through committee.

“By nature, this process is bipartisan,” she said in a statement. “These bills haven’t even gone through the committee process – during that period we will take input from all sides and all stakeholders before going to the next chamber for their process. And then, of course, they will be on a Democratic governor’s desk for her signature.”

Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), chair of the Senate Oversight Committee, called Benson’s comments inflammatory.

House Leaders Agree to Bipartisan Gov’t Ethics Reform Package

Efforts to further expand Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, prohibit legislators and department heads from becoming lobbyists for two years after their tenure, and strengthen penalties for legislative misconduct are expected to be announced later this week as part of a bipartisan package of bills centered on reforming government ethics in state government.

While the bills themselves are not expected to come up in committee until next week, lawmakers Tuesday said the reforms are common sense and driven by constituents’ concerns about making the Legislature more accountable.

“When you get outside of the small Lansing and Capitol community and tell people back home how their state government operates, you really see how bizarre some of our rules are and why so many people are losing their faith in government,” House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) said in a statement. “We must do better and hold ourselves to a higher standard. We must listen to the people who sent us here and understand why they are losing faith. That is why ethics reform has been one of my top priorities, and why we are all working together now to raise the bar in state government and make our entire system more open, honest, and accountable to the people we serve.”

As part of the proposed package legislators and the Governor would no longer be exempt from FOIA requests, lawmakers and high-ranking officials in the executive branch would be required to disclose their finances to a newly created oversight panel to determine any conflicts of interests and lobbyists would be mandated to disclose money spent on staff of influential lawmakers.

Lobbyists already must disclose money spent to lobby state officials. Closing the staffer loophole would be done by adding in all policy-making staff in the Legislature and Office of the Governor to a list of “lobbyable” officials.

“The people are asked too often to simply trust that elected officials are acting in the public interest and holding themselves accountable. That’s a failed, unacceptable system,” House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) said in a statement. “These reforms represent meaningful, if incremental, steps that will help restore citizens’ faith in our government by increasing transparency and demanding high ethical standards from public servants. It’s long past time to stop talking about reform in Lansing and start taking action. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to see that these reforms become law.”

Additional efforts to improve ethical standards, as part of the bill package, would include:

  • Prohibiting legislative conflicts of interest by banning lawmakers from voting for personal benefit;
  • Prohibiting legislators from lobbying out-of-state, to halt potential conflicts of interests in-state;
  • Banning the civil appointment of lobbyists to a state board or commission;
  • Closing what is known as the “revolving door” by prohibiting lawmakers and department heads from becoming lobbyists for two years after the end of their term or tenure;
  • Ending most lame-duck legislative activity by requiring the support of a bipartisan supermajority of legislators in each chamber to pass any bills during the period after the November election in even-numbered years;
  • Requiring bipartisan support for laws to take immediate effect by requiring a record roll call vote with supermajority support to be required to give bills immediate effect.

Under the proposed package, penalties for unethical conduct would also be created. Unlawful gifts to state officials worth less than $3,000 would be subject to a heightened criminal fine of up to $7,500 under the package, and a new civil fine of up to $2,000 per violation would also be created. The bills would also expand penalties for legislative misconduct by suspending the salary and expense allowances of a legislator who acts unethically or is excessively absent by a supermajority vote.

Further, a new and bipartisan ethics committee would be created in both the House and Senate – with an equal party split and alternating co-chairs – to enforce the ethics and conflict of interest laws, issue advisory opinions, accept and investigate public complaints about legislator misconduct and recommend disciplinary action. Should the committees determine wrongdoing occurred, it would also be forced to make all evidence of the misdeed public.

Some of these bills have already seen introduction in legislative committees or action, including the altering of FOIA compliance and changes to the lame-duck session. The rest are expected to be introduced this week and discussed in committee starting next week.

“For too long, Michigan has lacked even basic laws that give voters the information we need to know how politicians make decisions and whether they are serving our interests,” Nancy Wang, the executive director of Voters Not Politicians, said in a statement. “These bills won’t solve all of the problems in Lansing, but they will be an important first step to put us on the right track to ensure our politicians are accountable to us.”

The group has worked with lawmakers of both parties for the last two years to “build support for a comprehensive package of ethics, transparency, and accountability reforms” Wang said, adding that she expects swift passage of these bills given the bipartisan agreement on them.

And while appetite in the House for these reforms appears great, it’s unknown what their reception will be in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has long strongly opposed financial disclosure requirements for lawmakers.

“Senator Shirkey is always supportive of making government more accountable to the people of Michigan and looks forward to working through the legislative process,” Abby Walls, Shirkey press secretary, said in a statement.

Celebrating Diverse Voices Town Hall with Alexis Wiley, Moment Strategies and Sommer Woods, Woods Watts

The fourth installment of the Chamber’s Celebrating Diverse Voices Town Hall series delved into how to chart unique entrepreneurial paths. Speakers Alexis Wiley, founder, and principal of Moment Strategies, and Sommer Woods, owner and chief architect of Solution Architects and partner at Woods Watts Effect, both have a background in news media, government, and corporate and community relations. They spoke about their unique career paths, lessons learned in leadership, and the people and projects that have left a lasting impression.

Status of the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem in the City

The Metro Detroit area has a big community of different businesses and is a hub for Black entrepreneurs. With the COVID-19 pandemic, entrepreneurs are being tested and having to manage the new normal. Learning how to use resources and other nontraditional avenues to keep business going has been something every entrepreneur has had to deal with.

Both Wiley and Woods agree that this moment has made people think through the next steps and even people who work 9 to 5, there thinking to take advantage of this moment to pursue a passion.

“When you think about all the different channels and the fact that things have been so decentralized, and we have all found new ways to do things that presents a tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurs and people that are thinking how I do this in a way that serves my better good” says Wiley. “It’s a tough time but a really exciting one.”

Different resources are available to a wide range of people that make this market so special. “That’s one of the beautiful things about the fabric of the city, is we have so many talented entrepreneurs and business owners that will be able to bounce back and really come back into the fold of who we truly are.” said Woods.

Pivoting Careers

Both ladies spent time in different industries before becoming entrepreneurs and that contributed to their transition to having a desire to learn, specialize, and expand themselves.

“I do think that that’s half the battle of being successful to be able to take that risk. Because if you can’t bet on yourself, who can you bet on? A lot of us are fulfilling other people’s dreams.” said Woods.

When changing career paths, it’s okay to feel hesitant or scared of what’s next and the pressures to get things right. Woods encourages people to “not allow the idea that everything has to be perfect. Because when things do not go right, it’s absolutely okay. The only thing you have to do, is continue to keep going, keep getting up, keep moving, and really make sure that you got a sense of what your North Star is, what’s guiding you as you move.”

Woods started her entrepreneur journey in 2006 and did not realize at the time where she would end up in the entrepreneurial space. She reminds anyone starting their venture to “keep moving, keep growing, and then you’re able to prosper into a much bigger thing than you thought you were capable of.”

Butzel Long attorney appointed to Transportation Research Board’s Standing Committee on Emerging Technology Law

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Jennifer Dukarski, Butzel Long attorney, shareholder and leader of the firm’s Connected Car and Autonomous Vehicle Specialty team, has been appointed to the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) Standing Committee on Emerging Technology Law. Her term runs through April 14, 2024.

The Transportation Research Board is one of seven program units of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which provides independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conducts other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. Members of the National Academies’ technical committees serve as individuals, not as representatives of the organizations by which they are employed or of which they may be members. Through their appointment, members agree to actively participate in and support the committee’s activities. The Standing Committee on Emerging Technology Law seeks to investigate and provide a forum for the discussion of legal and public policy issues arising from the identification, development, and application of emerging technology to transportation systems. The Committee’s work includes addressing legal issues associated with the creation of appropriate public institutions, legal authority, procurement, contracting for innovation, data rights, public access to information, liability and risk allocation, public/private partnering, and related concerns.

Dukarski focuses her practice at the intersection of technology and communications with an emphasis on emerging and disruptive issues: digital media and content, cybersecurity and privacy, infotainment and shared mobility, and connected and autonomous cars. She assists clients on compliance with various industry regulations, functional safety requirements, and voluntary technical standards. She has become a national leader in legal issues facing emerging automotive technology. .

A self-titled “recovering engineer,” Dukarski was named one of the 30 Women Defining the Future of Technology in January 2020 by Warner Communications for her innovative thoughts and contributions to the tech industry.

Dukarski is a graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law (J.D., magna cum laude, 2010). She’s also a graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy College of Engineering and Science, (B.S., Mechanical Engineering, summa cum laude, 1996).

About Butzel Long

Butzel Long is one of the leading law firms in Michigan and the United States. It was founded in Detroit in 1854 and has provided trusted client service for more than 160 years. Butzel’s full-service law offices are located in Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mich.; New York, NY; and, Washington, D.C., as well as an alliance office in Beijing. It is an active member of Lex Mundi, a global association of 160 independent law firms. Learn more by visiting www.butzel.com or follow Butzel Long on Twitter: https://twitter.com/butzel_long

What Money Will Michigan Get in the American Rescue Plan

The State Budget Office outlined a proposal for how the money allocated by the federal government in the American Rescue Plan Act should be spent at the state, county, and municipal level. Gov. Whitmer and State Budget Director Dave Massaron outlined the general priorities without dictating to the legislature how to spend each dollar. The Chamber joined five other leading business organizations in the state in a letter that urges government leaders to spend the money wisely to make our state more economically competitive with an eye on sustainable, transformative change.

Download the infographic

Crain’s Detroit Business names Massaron Notable Woman in Law

Plunkett Cooney appellate attorney Mary Massaron was recently named by Crain’s Detroit Business as one of Michigan’s 2021 Notable Women in Law.

“Mary’s selection by Crain’s for this honor is a testament to her more than 30 years in practice as one of the state’s top appellate attorneys,” said Plunkett Cooney’s President and CEO Thomas P. Vincent. “Mary has built a national reputation for excellence, and we are extremely proud that she has been named among this year’s class of notable women in the law.”

Massaron, along with 46 other female attorneys and judges, were selected to the 2021 class for their work in establishing legal precedents, for relentlessly pursuing justice and for winning big cases on behalf of their clients. Winners were also selected for their efforts to mentor the next generation of women in law and for their philanthropic endeavors. Winners were featured in an April 19 special section of Crain’s Detroit Business.

Massaron was nominated for her extensive career in the area of appellate law practice, her successful and award-winning amicus brief writing, her leadership positions with national legal organizations (serving as president of the DRI – The Voice of the Defense Bar and Lawyers for Civil Justice), and for mentoring the firm’s younger appellate attorneys.

Massaron is one of Plunkett Cooney’s most accomplished appellate attorneys with over 400 appeals to her credit, approximately 50 of which are published decisions. She has the distinction of being inducted into the prestigious American Academy of Appellate Attorneys. Massaron is a past chair of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Amicus Briefs, and she is perennially identified as a top appellate attorney in Michigan by Martindale-Hubbell, Best Lawyers in America and other leading peer review organizations.

Over the last 30 years, Plunkett Cooney’s appellate lawyers have been lead counsel in more than 1,500 cases decided by state and federal appellate courts, including all Michigan appellate courts, the Ohio Supreme Court, the Indiana appellate courts, the California Court of Appeals, and numerous federal circuit courts of appeal. The firm’s lawyers have argued cases before the Michigan Supreme Court during each term since 1988. Collectively, they provide appellate expertise in a range of litigation from class actions to product liability to municipal law.

Established in 1913, Plunkett Cooney is a leading provider of business and litigation services to clients in the private and public sectors. The firm employs approximately 150 attorneys in seven Michigan cities, Chicago, Illinois; Columbus, Ohio; and Indianapolis, Indiana. Plunkett Cooney has achieved the highest rating (AV) awarded by Martindale-Hubbell and Crain’s Detroit Business named the firm its inaugural Law Firm of the Year.

For more information about Mary Massaron as one of Crain’s Notable Women in Law, contact Plunkett Cooney’s Director of Marketing and Business Development John Cornwell at (248) 901-4008; jcornwell@plunkettcooney.com.


Evonne Xu Selected to Crain’s Detroit Business “Notable Women in Law” 2021

Royal Oak, Mich., April 20, 2021 – Howard & Howard is pleased to announce that attorney Evonne Xu was selected to Crain’s Detroit Business “Notable Women in Law” 2021. The women featured were selected by a team of editors based on their career accomplishments, track record of success in the field, contributions to their community, and mentorship of others.

Xu represents an international roster of companies in M&A initiatives, commercial lending, and general corporate matters. She has extensive experience in a wide range of mergers and acquisitions and other complex strategic transactions, including stock and asset acquisition and sales, entity structuring, corporate restructuring, joint venture and strategic alliance, and debt and equity finance matters.

As an attorney licensed in the U.S. and China and fluent in both the English and Chinese languages, Xu regularly assists Chinese companies in conducting and investing in businesses throughout the United States. Similarly, she has helped multiple U.S. enterprises navigate legal and business issues in China. She has advised over one hundred Chinese entrepreneurs and business owners on a full range of legal issues, including business formation, corporate governance and compliance, labor and employment issues, immigration matters, purchase and sale of businesses, drafting and negotiation of commercial contracts, greenfield projects, and joint ventures.

Xu has been named to Michigan Super Lawyers, “Rising Stars,” Michigan Women Thrive Conference, “Rising Stars,” Michigan Lawyers Weekly, “Up & Coming Lawyers,” and was previously selected by Crain’s Detroit Business for their “Twenty In Their 20s” recognition initiative in 2014.

Xu is a member of Howard & Howard’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. She also serves as a board member in the AAPI Advisory Board for Oakland County Executive’s office and has served in various leadership roles for multiple organizations in the past, including Chinese in Michigan, SigularityU Detroit, and Detroit Chinese Engineer Association. Xu received her LL.M., cum laude, from Fordham University School of Law and her LL.B., from Shanghai University School of Law.

About Howard & Howard:

With a history spanning over 15 decades, Howard & Howard is a full-service law firm with a national and international practice, providing legal services to businesses and business owners. More than 160 attorneys practice out of offices in Royal Oak, Michigan; Illinois (Chicago and Peoria); Las Vegas, Nevada; and Beverly Hills, California. For more information, please visit howardandhoward.com.

Kresge Commits $2M for Vaccine Efforts, Health Equity in Detroit Neighborhoods

The Kresge Foundation today announced $1 million to bolster vaccine access and health equity through Detroit’s community health centers, community development organizations, and human service agencies. The foundation is also committing to an additional $1 million in vaccination support grants in Detroit in the coming weeks.

“COVID-19 is not over, especially in Black and Brown communities. Community organizations are telling us that there’s more to be done to get out the word in neighborhoods that vaccines are readily available, safe and save lives, and to help connect residents to them,” said Wendy Lewis Jackson, managing director of the Kresge Foundation’s Detroit Program.

“The organizations we are supporting are trusted and familiar to Detroiters, and they will work alongside city efforts to reach residents closer to home and help us stem the resurgence of COVID-19.”

The funds announced include $600,000 targeted to federally qualified health centers, community development organizations, and human service agencies in city council districts 2 and 6 – in northwest and southwest Detroit –  where testing shows the city’s highest COVID-19 case rates. Those funds will support a variety of efforts including vaccine outreach and education and transportation to vaccine sites.  Funds will also support the organizations in connecting residents with resources for a variety of basic needs, such as food, housing, and mental health services.

The 13 organizations funded include ACCESS, Advantage Health Centers, Bridging Communities, and Sinai Grace Community Development Corporation.

The balance of today’s funds, $400,000, will support community health organizations across the city leading outreach and access efforts. Those organizations will be named in the coming weeks.

“Vaccine eligibility does not automatically ensure equitable or convenient access, particularly for low-income communities and communities of color,” said Jackson. “It is important to address our longstanding inequities in the health field at the neighborhood level.”

Additional grants of $1 million promote vaccine access and availability, including partnerships with the city of Detroit and other organizations, will be announced in the coming days and the near future.

Nationally, including the Detroit grants, The Kresge Foundation will announce at least $4.4 million to support the equitable distribution of vaccines in 2021. In 2020, the foundation committed $19 million in grants and investments to support nonprofits confronting the COIVD-19 crisis nationally and in cities across the United States.

“Health centers, community development organizations and other nonprofits delivering human services are trusted pillars of their neighborhoods. Particularly through the pandemic, these groups have stepped up to provide access to health and human services — including access to COVID testing — for residents,” said Jackson of the organizations being funded today. “These grants reflect the foundation’s commitment to improving the quality of life and opportunity in the city and address the systematic health disparities afflict communities of color.”

View the press release from The Kresge Foundation.

Miller Canfield Elects Amy Johnston to Serve as Chair of Managing Directors

Miller Canfield is pleased to announce that Amy Johnston has been elected to serve as the new Chair of the Managing Directors.

Johnston is a principal attorney and the co-leader of Miller Canfield’s Litigation and Dispute Resolution Group. She has served on the firm’s five-member Board of Managing Directors since her election in 2016.

“Amy has provided solid leadership as a Managing Director and the firm is better and stronger for it,” said Miller Canfield CEO Megan Norris. “Her business savvy and understanding of the workings of the firm will serve us well as the directors move forward with their vision.”

Johnston will focus on continuing to attract and retain top talent from a diverse candidate pool and building on the firm’s investment in its technological infrastructure.

“The firm is fortunate to have such a dynamic and energetic group of Managing Directors. It’s an honor and privilege to serve as the Chair,” Johnston said. “I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and our new CEO to achieve our goals.”

Johnston succeeds Joseph Fazio, who served as Chair in 2020 and 2010-2013, and served on the Board of Managing Directors for more than a decade. Her election marks the first time in the firm’s history that the top two leadership positions are held by women. Norris became the firm’s CEO in February 2021. Additionally, in 2020 the firm named Michelle Crockett as its Deputy Executive Officer and Chief Diversity Officer.

Johnston is publicly recognized as a leading lawyer. In 2021, she was recognized by Hour Detroit®’s Top Women Legal Leaders and in 2020, she was named as one of the Best Women Lawyers in America by Best Lawyers®. Johnston has been recognized in the top 5 Women Lawyers and top 10 Women Business Lawyers by Leading Lawyers. She was also honored for her leadership as Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s 2014 Women in the Law. In addition, she has been recognized on U.S. News & World Report’s “Top 25 Women Lawyers in Michigan” list since 2016, “Top 50 Women Lawyers in Michigan” since 2011 and “Best Lawyers in America” since 2008. She has been a Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America, the trial lawyer honorary society, since 2007. Licensed in Michigan and Ohio, Johnston received her J.D., cum laude from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and her Bachelor of General Studies from the University of Michigan.

April 16 | This Week in Government: Chamber Warns Against Limiting Voting Access; Whitmer Vetoes Broadband Tax Exemption

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.

  1. Detroit Regional Chamber Warns Against Limiting Voting Access
  2. Whitmer Vetoes Broadband Tax Exemption
  3. Board of Ed Urges Legislature to Waive State Testing Accountability
  4. Shirkey, Wentworth Praise Whitmer Resistance to New COVID Limits
  5. MIOSHA Officially Extends Emergency Rules for Workplaces

Detroit Regional Chamber Warns Against Limiting Voting Access

The first hearing on a trio of bills from a 39-bill Senate Republicans election law package will be heard in committee this week as another organization expressed opposition Monday over elements of the package it said it found concerning as it relates to ballot access.

The Detroit Regional Chamber was one of the latest groups to come forward to voice opposition to at least some of the Senate Republican elections package.

“Of the 39 bills introduced in the Michigan legislature focused on voting processes and access, some are common sense improvements that make an already strong process stronger, including extending early voting opportunities,” the Chamber said. “Others, however, have the impact of unreasonably restricting Michiganders’ ability to exercise their right to vote. Other provisions place undue burdens on already stressed election workers and risk confidentiality of an individual’s vote.”

The Chamber said it will oppose parts of the package that limit voters’ ability to exercise their voting rights, especially those that affect communities of color and less affluent areas.

Principles the group will push during the debate include an understanding the 2020 elections were fair, that any potential changes to the election process must not create barriers for voters and that changes must improve access. The group added more restrictive voting laws could send a negative message about the state as businesses compete for skilled employees.

“The Detroit Regional Chamber will continue to monitor this package of bills and will support those that make an already strong system better, advance customer-centric processes, and will oppose legislation that unduly burdens Michiganders’ ability to participate in elections,” the group said.

Of the 39 bills, three will be heard before the Senate Elections Committee Wednesday.

The first, SB 277, would set up a process for county clerks and local clerks to check and remove dead voters from the Qualified Voter File.

Under SB 281, the secretary of state would be required to obtain verification of voter information on residency as well as investigate potential instances of improper voting.

A third bill, SB 306, would require the Department of State to report on its website which local clerks are not current on election training.

A package of House election law bills also is scheduled to be heard before the committee Wednesday.

Before the committee will be HB 4127 and HB 4128, which would require the Department of State to send mailers to voters that have placeholder birthdays, such as the year 1900, listed in the Qualified Voter File due to unknown dates of birth. The purpose of the mailers would be to have voters prove they are still qualified voters and confirm their actual birthdate.

Also before the committee will be HB 4129, HB 4130 and HB 4131. The bills would require the Department of State to post on its website in odd number years local clerks who have not completed required training, amend the timing for the filing of lobbyists’ reports and amend the timing for correction of errors and omissions in campaign finance reports.

Whitmer Vetoes Broadband Tax Exemption

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would have provided personal property tax exemptions for certain broadband providers in unserved areas, saying the bill would cost the School Aid Fund millions without spurring high-speed development.

Under HB 4210, infrastructure would need to provide for internet speeds of at least 25 megabits per second downstream and 3 megabits per second upstream.

Critics of the bill said the speed required was not fast enough to be useful for those seeking internet access.

Gov. Whitmer, in her veto letter Wednesday, agreed.

“The bill’s target of 25 mbps service would deliver a mere fraction of the speeds well in excess of 100 mbps that U.S. broadband users have come to expect,” she wrote. “If Michiganders are going to spend their hard-earned tax dollars to incentivize broadband development, it better be fast.”

Gov. Whitmer also touted her administration’s funding of $12 million in grants for broadband expansion and said the state is receiving more money for broadband through the federal stimulus bill.

“Although I am vetoing HB 4210, I look forward to working with the Legislature on a spending bill to put American Rescue Plan funds to work strengthening Michigan’s broadband infrastructure,” she wrote.

Rep. Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan) said the Governor’s veto hurts rural families.

“People need high-speed internet in all areas of the state – not just big cities and booming suburbs – and the COVID pandemic has dramatically accelerated this need,” she said in a statement. “With this veto, the governor is hurting people in underserved areas of the state – patients who can’t get to a doctor and need telehealth options, kids who are relying more and more on online learning, and workers forced to do their jobs from home. These Michigan families face a connectivity crisis, and the governor refused to help them at a time they needed it most.”

Rep. Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet), a co-sponsor of the bill, blasted the Governor’s veto.

“While Gretchen Whitmer and big city Democrats enjoy access to this basic necessity, far too many people find themselves lacking access to high-speed internet,” she said in a statement. “I can’t even begin to count how many times I had to leave my house and drive into the city just to complete a Zoom or conference call. By vetoing this legislation, Gov. Whitmer is telling rural Michigan that she doesn’t care that your kids are falling behind in school, that you’re out of luck if you run a small business and that you don’t deserve access to a basic necessity she enjoys.”

Board of Ed Urges Legislature to Waive State Testing Accountability

Members of the State Board of Education Tuesday voted 6-0 to approve a resolution urging lawmakers to waive accountability outcomes related to state standardized assessments, citing the pandemic as affecting testing results in such a way that data would be misrepresentative and not useful to Michigan.

Board members Nikki Snyder (R-Dexter) and Tom McMillin (R-Oakland Township) were absent during the vote.

Late last month, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would waive the accountability portion of mandated summative assessments, though in April noted it still would be requiring Michigan educators to still issue the exams.

At the state level, however, lawmakers have yet to waive accountability rule requirements for both students and teachers. There are three state-level accountability laws tied to the results of state summative assessments: teacher evaluations, retention mandated through the Read by Grade Three literacy law and the A-F system.

Tests that would measure such outcomes include the PSAT delivered to 9th and 10th graders.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Rice, speaking on the necessity of the resolution, said that this is not the first time the board has attempted to raise this issue and that there is a need for lawmakers to move expeditiously on this topic.

“In the absence of the state Legislature’s actions, and prompt action, we are going to have high stakes accountability requirements associated with state summative assessments, with small numbers – and uneven numbers – of our young people testing across the state of Michigan,” he said. “Those would include, but not be limited to, the potential for third grate retention of some of our young people, educator evaluations being – in part – associated with these assessments in the midst of a pandemic and the running of an A through F system. That was premised on virtually every child taking the state summative assessments, not a fraction thereof.”

While states are beginning to issue summative assessments, mandated at the federal level though with the accountability of outcome waived, the Michigan Department of Education has made a point to stress that required testing does not need to be immediately issued by districts.

Regarding the M-STEP – which many districts are beginning to issue this week – the department has extended the exam’s testing window through June 4 and has also secured two alternate testing dates in the spring for administering the SAT. It also noted that additional windows are available for PSAT testing as well.

But in the instance where, regardless of when the exam is offered, parents still feel like it is unsafe for their child to physically come to a school building and participate in testing, state board officials also stressed that it was necessary for parents to know that it was their right to not have their child or children participate in the assessments.

This notion led to the board’s second unanimous approval – absent again were Snyder and McMillin – of a statement of parental rights, which indicated that members supported “the fundamental right of all parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching and education of their children.”

Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods), who read the statement into the record, noted that though the federal waiver for the spring 2021 state summative assessment was not granted, the accountability portion was, meaning the federal department “will not penalize Michigan or other states for failure to secure 95 percent or higher student participation in the administration of these assessments.”

“Given that coronavirus infection rates are increasing in Michigan and many students are still attending school remotely, the State Board of Education supports the guidance to parents and legal guardians that these students need not be brought into school solely for the purpose of state assessment, and will not be required to come into school for the sole purpose of taking the assessments,” she said, reading the end of the statement.

Board President Casandra Ulbrich (D-Dearborn) praised the statement making clear the ability for parents to not have to send their children into school buildings for testing, noting that parents had recently gotten ahold of her to say their districts were operating under the pretense that assessment participation was absolutely mandatory.

“I did have a parent who wanted to opt their child out of testing, but was afraid that the school would suffer negative consequences as a result of that … I also have heard from parents who, it seems, are being told even though their students are remote because of health reasons in the home, that they are required and mandated to send their student for face-to-face testing,” Ulbrich said. “I think it’s important that we reiterate: If you don’t feel it’s safe to send your student into a school for in-person learning, you do not have to send your student into a school for the sole purpose of taking a test.”

In her later comments, Ulbrich added that the board was not “opposed to assessments” but that “when there are consequences that are attached it changes the game completely, and that needs to be taken into consideration.”

BOARD APPROVES PERKINS V UPDATES: Board members Tuesday also gave the OK to changes made to the Perkins V Core performance Indicator plan, which has since been updated following a public comment period earlier this year. Updates to the plan would account for revising performance indicators due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic’s effect on increasing statewide unemployment and decreasing first-year college enrollment.

“Youth unemployment is significantly higher than it was a year ago – also significantly higher than adult unemployment – and also the number of students who are entering post-secondary institutions was much lower this past September,” said Brian Pyles, MDE’s Office of Career and Technical Education director. “Key in the Perkins Act is that there’s a core performance indicator that our school districts are not going to meet. We need to adjust that number before we don’t reach that number, because once we fail to reach the number we can no longer adjust.”

Shirkey, Wentworth Praise Whitmer Resistance to New COVID Limits

For the first time in more than a year, Republican legislative leaders are praising Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Michigan’s COVID-19 numbers have skyrocketed in the past six weeks to become the worst in the nation’s, Gov. Whitmer has steadfastly refused to reinstate any of the restrictions her administration has relaxed or rescinded since the start of the year. In the past week, the administration of President Joe Biden called for Gov. Whitmer to reinstate a stay-home type order to address the explosion of cases, crush of hospitalizations, and sharp uptick in deaths.

Gov. Whitmer also has been asked repeatedly by reporters in the past week why she has not brought back the same types of restrictions on businesses, gatherings, and other activities that she repeatedly said in 2020 were critical to arresting control of the virus during the first wave in the spring and the second wave in the fall. Her response has been the same: that the context has changed, that vaccines are now available and represent the best way out of the pandemic.

She also on Wednesday touted a newly recommended monoclonal antibody treatment that medical experts say can reduce the severity of the virus for those who have it.

Only in March of 2020 did Gov. Whitmer receive support from Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and then-House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering). By April, as Gov. Whitmer tightened her stay-home order, then-President Donald Trump repeatedly attacked Gov. Whitmer and Gov. Whitmer and legislative Republicans prepared to go to court over the Governor’s emergency powers, the tone shifted and both – especially Shirkey – became virulent critics of Gov. Whitmer.

On Wednesday, however, Shirkey took to Twitter to offer Gov. Whitmer some support.

“I applaud @GovWhitmer for resisting the tremendous pressure to lock down our state and trusting Michiganders to do the right thing,” he said.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell), who took office in January, also offered his first real praise for the Governor of the year.

“Gov. Whitmer is right to reject calls for new restrictions and shutdowns. This is no time to go backward in our fight against COVID,” he said in a statement. “Instead, this is a time to look forward. Michigan has made strong progress with vaccinations, with more than 60% of seniors fully vaccinated and almost half of the state having had at least one dose. We have appropriated tens of millions of dollars that is still being used to fund this effort, open up vaccine clinics, and make shots available to anyone who wants one as soon as possible. The expanded use of antibody therapy will also help our highest-risk friends and neighbors. The Governor should continue focusing on vaccinations, encouraging personal responsibility, and moving Michigan further along the path to normalcy.”

The state’s seven-day average for newly confirmed COVID-19 cases held steady Wednesday at 7,006, still close to the all-time high set in late November.

Hospitalizations edged downward Wednesday for the first time in many weeks, falling from 4,205 to 4,187 among those suspected or confirmed to have the virus.

Two dozen hospitals in the state are at 98% capacity, Gov. Whitmer told reporters.

“We’ve got some work to do to get our COVID metrics headed in the right direction again,” she said. “We have a tough couple of weeks ahead of us.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said she spent much of the previous weekend in a hospital emergency room.

“Patients again are lining our hallways like they were last spring,” she said. “This situation is very serious.”

Khaldun then offered this recommendation.

“We need to be using every tool in our toolbox right now to get these cases and hospitalizations down,” she said.

Gov. Whitmer was later asked about that comment and why the Governor is not using one of those tools – the Department of Health and Human Services’ power to issue new public health orders restricting activity.

The number one tool to use right now, Gov. Whitmer responded, is the vaccine. The next best tool is a mask, and now people with the virus if eligible should seek the antibody treatment.

“That’s what we’re trying to do is get our hospital rates down,” she said.

Gov. Whitmer was then asked about her repeated statements of 2020 that her orders had worked to bring down cases, hospitalizations and deaths and whether she now believed because of pandemic fatigue or other factors they would no longer work.

“We’re having a lot of conversation about what makes sense to contribute to bringing down the spread,” she said. “The national experts with whom we consult have said you don’t have a policy problem. Michigan still has some of the strongest protocols in place – capacity restrictions, we’ve got a mask mandate. Other states have dropped all of these things. We still have them in Michigan, and yet we have high positivity. It’s not a question about whether the policy is the right policy, it’s really more of a testament to the fact that we have combining issues – we have variants that are very present here in Michigan in greater numbers than other states are seeing, we have reservoirs of people who didn’t get COVID thankfully but are now vulnerable to these variants and we have exhaustion, the fatigue where people are dropping their guard.”

MIOSHA Officially Extends Emergency Rules for Workplaces

As expected, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration extended its emergency rules first issued in October for another six months, which require, among other things, workers who can feasibly work remotely to do so.

The rules were extended for another six months, as allowed by law, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday they likely would not be in place as written for the full six months.

“MIOSHA’s emergency rules help keep us all safe by ensuring that employers implement common-sense safety standards to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace,” Gov. Whitmer said in a statement. “When employers maintain a safe workplace, that gives workers and consumers the confidence to keep our economy moving.”

The state said in the midst of a third wave of spiking coronavirus cases, the protection of workers is its top priority.

Since March 2020, employers have reported more than 40 worker deaths from COVID-19 in Michigan and MIOSHA has received over 12,000 complaints from employees alleging COVID-19 hazards in the workplace. In addition, over 605 referrals were received from local government, including local health departments, indicating that businesses were not taking all the necessary measures to protect their employees from infection.

“As we work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the rules reinforce the importance of keeping workplaces safe for employees from COVID-19 transmission,” said COVID-19 Workplace Safety Director Sean Egan. “We want employers to create a safe work environment for their employees, which is why we will continue to work with employees and businesses to help them understand how to safely stay open.”

Businesses had been urging the state to allow more in-person work.

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance said it was disappointed to see the rules extended, but hopeful the restrictions on in-person work would be rolled back soon.

“The Alliance and all of our member organizations are frustrated to see the MIOSHA Emergency Rules extended after we have been working to advocate against such an extension,” Stacie Bytwork, the chairperson of the Alliance and president and CEO of the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “Our businesses are eager to get back to work and continue our economic recovery from this pandemic.”

Rich Studley, Michigan Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, called the move a “body blow” to businesses.


Michigan Business Leaders Unite On Voting Rights