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Jan. 8 | This Week in Government: Local Impact of Capitol Riots; Next Phase of State Vaccine Program

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. Peters, Stabenow, Could Take Committee Gavels With Majority
  2. State Accelerating COVID Vaccines for 65+; Moving to More Workers
  3. Maddocks Slammed, But Unpunished, After D.C. Riot
  4. Dems Admit $220M Veto Shortens Unemployment in ’21
  5. Whitmer Signs Several Criminal Justice Reform Packages

Peters, Stabenow, Could Take Committee Gavels With Majority

Both of Michigan’s U.S. Senate members could end up chairing committees soon with a razor-thin majority in the chamber once Georgia’s runoff elections that were held Tuesday are certified as the two Democratic candidates there are projected as winners.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) is the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He’s also the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Armed Service Committee’s Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

For U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), she is the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

Stabenow served from 2011-15 as the agriculture committee’s chair. Under U.S. Senate rules adopted in the 1990s, members are limited to a six-year term on chairing a committee and, when in the minority, serving as its ranking member.

On Tuesday there were runoff elections in Georgia for both of that state’s U.S. Senate seats.

As of Wednesday, Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff were projected to narrowly win their races over their incumbent Republican opponents, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, respectively.

Once their victories are certified and the two Democrats are seated, the U.S. Senate would be split 50-50 between the two parties. Because Democrats also won the White House in the Nov. 3, 2020 election, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be able to cast the deciding 51st vote in the event of tied votes.


State Accelerating COVID Vaccines for 65+; Moving to More Workers

Next week, the state will speed up its plan in vaccinating those 65 and older along with more frontline workers, including teachers and child care providers, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

The announcement marks an acceleration in the original vaccination plan for those 65 and older, when originally those 75 and older were included in the early phase. It is also moving forward with additional frontline workers, including teachers, child care workers, police officers, frontline state and federal workers and jail and prison staff.

“The more people we can get the safe and effective vaccine, the faster we can return to a sense of normalcy,” Gov. Whitmer said in a statement. “I urge all seniors to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible and that all Michiganders to make a plan to get vaccinated when it becomes available to you. And as always: mask up, practice safe social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings where COVID-19 can easily spread from person to person. We will eliminate this virus together.”

There have been several reports in recent days, based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicating Michigan is lagging among the states in getting people vaccinated, but Gov. Whitmer pushed back hard on that assertion, saying that data is dated.

Eligible essential workers, teachers and child care workers will be notified by their employers about vaccine clinic dates and locations. Those older than 65 should seek clinics near them and make an appointment.

“For this next phase, we are simplifying the eligibility for frontline workers to those who have the highest levels of potential exposure to the virus in their jobs. We want to focus on those who are the most vulnerable to severe illness,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. “Eighty percent of COVID-19 deaths have occurred among those who are age 65 and older. And those over age 75 account for 60% of all deaths. We encourage our older Michiganders, particularly those who are over the age of 75, to get vaccinated, as soon as possible. This strategy we are announcing today is efficient, effective and equitable, focusing on making vaccine available to those who have the highest level of risk, whether it be because of where they work, or because of their age.”

Teachers unions and other education groups said the addition of teachers to the frontline workers who can soon get vaccinated is good news and an important step in getting students back into the classroom.

“We are pleased that Michigan educators are next in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The pandemic has made it very clear just how essential educators are and protecting them against this virus must be among our top priorities as we begin the slow march toward returning to face-to-face learning for all Michigan students,” Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators Executive Director Tina Kerr said in a statement. “Vaccinations, wearing masks, practicing good hygiene, and maintaining social distance are the most important tools in our toolbox to fight COVID-19. Vaccinations for educators will ensure that we can continue to provide in-person learning environments that protect the health and safety of students, staff, and our communities at-large.”

The ACLU of Michigan, though, pointed to what it perceives as problems in the vaccine plan, as staff for prison, jails and homeless shelters are prioritized, but not those who are incarcerated nor those living in shelters. This is particularly important when it comes to the coronavirus and its disproportionate impact on people of color, a memo from the group said.

“The impact of COVID-19 on Black Michiganders is exacerbated by their overrepresentation in Michigan’s prisons and jails,” the memo said. “Although they are 14% of Michigan’s population, they comprise 49% of the population in prisons and jails. Thus, early vaccination for the incarcerated population is essential to addressing the systemic racism that is part of this terrible disease.”

CASE DECLINES BEGINNING TO PLATEAU: Khaldun also said at Wednesday’s press conference that new cases are starting to plateau after a period of continuous decline for 46 days.

“The percent of tests that are positive is now 9.6%, which is concerning because it had been at 8.2% on Dec. 27,” Khaldun said. “We also know that over the holidays, the number of tests being done across the state also went down. So overall, I am concerned that we may be seeing a slowing of the progress we were making before the holidays. We will continue to track these metrics.”

Khaldun also said there are currently 237 cases per million people, with 198 cases per million in the Traverse City region and 342 cases per million in the Jackson region. She also said 12.6% if inpatient beds are being used to treat COVID-19 patients, which is down from 19.6% in early December.

“We know that the rate of decline in our cases is slowing, and we still need to see if there will be a post-holiday surge in cases,” she said. “And we also want to make sure that we are protecting our health care system so that people can get good care for both COVID and non-COVID related conditions.”

Khaldun also said the state is watching for a new variant of the virus that could be more contagious.

“We also know that we are seeing a new variant of the virus here in the United States. One that may be easier to spread than the current variant that we’ve been seeing,” she said. “While we have not identified that new variant in the state of Michigan, it is very likely that it’s already here, or it will be here soon, so that is concerning.”


Maddocks Slammed, But Unpunished, After D.C. Riot

As of Thursday, it appears there will be no official punishment of Rep. Matt Maddock and no sign his wife, Meshawn Maddock, will be blocked from becoming Michigan Republican Party co-chair after the two attended the pro-Trump gathering in Washington, D.C. which eventually saw a large number of participants violently storm the U.S. Capitol.

The Maddocks were in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday but there is no evidence they took part in the violence and joined the mob of insurrectionists in the U.S. Capitol seeking to prevent Congress from certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over President Donald Trump. Thousands of others supporting the president also flocked to the nation’s capital city.

Criticism of the pair has grown after what happened in Washington on Wednesday, mostly from Democrats. Some Republicans, too, have called for Ms. Maddock to be removed as co-chair candidate. She is running with Ron Weiser and the two are a shoo-in now that current Chair Laura Cox is not running for reelection.

The pair have been at the forefront of false allegations that Biden did not legitimately win Michigan’s electoral votes, and Ms. Maddock – who has quickly become a top Republican activist and organizer – worked to arrange a busload of people to travel to Washington leading up to the congressional vote to certify Biden as the winner.

Hundreds of insurrectionists supporting Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, pushing members of Congress from the House and Senate chambers to undisclosed locations for hours as law enforcement attempted to get control of the scene. Four people died – one woman was shot, and three others died in separate medical emergencies – The Associated Press reported.

Trump spoke to his supporters attending the rallies on Wednesday before they stormed the Capitol. While he did issue a video statement asking the rioters to go home, he also called them “very special,” and told them he loved them.

Trump on Thursday, following Congress certifying the Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, said he was committed to a peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 20 even as he continued to say he won the election.

Weiser did not respond to a question when asked if he had any second thoughts about Ms. Maddock as his co-chair. Her involvement in Weiser’s bid has been seen as essential to getting him grassroots support with many Republican backers of Weiser’s bid calling them the “dream team.” Instead, Weiser condemned the violence in a statement. He told Bridge Michigan he did not think Maddock incited the violence and then said he didn’t watch the events unfold on Wednesday and talked up the University of Michigan men’s basketball game.

“I strongly condemn those people who turned into a mob and breached the Capitol after what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. Those who broke the law should be held accountable,” Weiser said. “My heart goes out to the families of those who were unnecessarily harmed. The president said this morning that a peaceful transfer of power will occur and therefore the 2020 elections are over. It is time for Republicans to rest, regroup and focus on defeating the Democrats in 2022.”

Maddock also condemned the violence in a statement.

On Wednesday, she posted a short video on Instagram walking through a crowd outside the Capitol in the morning where the most notable moment in the video was when one person yelled that those assembled need to enter the Capitol to, “drag these people out of power.”

On Twitter Wednesday, she referred to the crowd as, “the most incredible … I’ve ever walked with.”

She has been a leading voice in the “Stop the Steal” movement in the Republican Party among those who insist, citing debunked claims, that Biden did not legitimately win the election.

On Thursday, she said in a statement: “I condemn the violence and the breaching of the Capitol in the strongest possible terms. The rally was supposed to be a peaceful event and the people who became a mob and broke the law should be held accountable. I am horrified by the death of the young woman and pray for the healing of our nation.”

Andrea Bitely with the firm Truscott Rossman and consultant Dennis Lennox were among those in the GOP expressing concern about Ms. Maddock remaining on the ticket as co-chair. Bitely is a former press secretary to Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, and Lennox has long been involved in Michigan Republican politics.

“Maddock needs to be removed from the ticket for @MIGOP immediately,” Bitely tweeted.

Mr. Maddock (R-Milford) was in D.C. as well. He did not return a request for comment on Thursday.

He has been a leading proponent of making election fraud claims without evidence. As it became apparent Tuesday evening that the two Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in Georgia were in a good position to win, he tweeted, “What time will the ‘vote dump’ happen in Georgia tomorrow?”

Ms. Maddock also had some thoughts on Georgia. Earlier in the day Tuesday, before the polls closed, she retweeted, “Stacey Abrams is eating her body weight in donuts right now watching the Georgia election.”

Democrats upped their criticism of the pair on Thursday.

“Not once yesterday did Ms. Maddock condemn the horrific violence that unfolded at our U.S. Capitol,” Christy Jensen, executive director of the Michigan Democratic Party, said in a statement. “She had plenty of opportunities throughout the day to use her voice and platform to speak out against the egregious actions of the domestic terrorists that stormed the people’s house. Instead, she has gone silent. Chair Weiser should get ready to spend a lot of time apologizing to the people of Michigan for the conduct of his new co-chair, whose opinions and actions are not informed by facts or the truth.”

Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) and Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Township) were among Mr. Maddock’s colleagues seeking official punishment for Mr. Maddock.

Lynn Afendoulis, spokesperson for House Speaker-elect Rep. Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell), said the incoming speaker didn’t see anything from Mr. Maddock that rose to the level requiring censure or other official punishment.

Pohutsky said Mr. Maddock helped incite the violence in Washington on Wednesday and has incited violence in the past.

“I think the speaker needs to be very clear how unacceptable this type of behavior is,” she said.

Further, she said what took place in Washington was not a protest but a violent takeover of the nation’s capital.

“I think it was important to note that (Rep. Cynthia Johnson) had committees stripped because they said she was attempting to incite violence,” Pohutsky said, referring to her Democratic colleague who was removed from committees during the last weeks of 2020 for issuing a warning to “Trumpers.”

Johnson had also been receiving violent and racist threats.

“Violence did in fact ensue yesterday,” Pohutsky said. “And it ensued because people like Rep. Maddock have been trafficking falsehoods and conspiracy theories.”

Related: Detroit Regional Chamber Statement on the Violence at the Capitol


Dems Admit $220M Veto Shortens Unemployment in ’21

The Unemployment Insurance Agency acknowledged Monday that individuals filing in 2021 for jobless benefits will only receive a maximum of 20 weeks of benefits because of the veto of $220 million from a supplemental bill, a reversal from what Democrats and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer claimed, that the veto would not affect the intended extension of 26 weeks of benefits through March.

When Gov. Whitmer vetoed the $220 million transfer from the General Fund to the Unemployment Benefits Trust Fund within SB 748, Republicans immediately denounced her for torpedoing the continued enhanced 26 weeks of benefits through March 31 in SB 604. Benefits were 20 weeks prior to boosting them to 26 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Whitmer’s communications director, Zack Pohl, denounced the GOP criticism as a lie, insisting she did not veto benefits. Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing), the sponsor of SB 604, also initially said no worker would be affected by the veto.

“Workers who filed before Jan 1, 2021, and received up to 26 weeks won’t lose those their right to those weeks,” UIA spokesperson Lynda Robinson said in a statement Monday. “This does not affect the number of weeks provided by the federal unemployment benefit programs.”

This comes despite multiple reassurances from Democrats last week the veto would not affect unemployment claims. Gov. Whitmer had even outright said during a media briefing last Tuesday that the veto “will not impact individual workers” and that “the funding I vetoed had nothing to do with extending benefits.”

Gov. Whitmer deputy press secretary Chelsea Parisio clarified Monday the veto has no effect on those who filed prior to 2021. She said the Governor is “hopeful the state Legislature will quickly take action to permanently extend unemployment benefits from 20 to 26 weeks for newly unemployed workers who file” from Jan. 1 onwards.

“The bipartisan legislation Gov. Whitmer signed extends benefits for Michiganders who have lost work because of COVID-19,” Parisio said. “The Governor’s line-item veto to save $220M in General Fund taxpayer dollars in the employer-owned Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund has no effect on unemployed workers who filed before Dec. 31.”

It is not clear if Gov. Whitmer was aware the bill would affect those filing after that time when she vetoed the initial funding within the supplemental.

Gov. Whitmer vetoed the transfer because employers fund unemployment benefits through the State Unemployment Tax. There is no precedent for general taxpayers to prop up the Unemployment Benefits Trust Fund. Business groups, however, have said they will be facing a tax increase to pay for the drain on the fund from pandemic-ordered shutdowns implemented by Gov. Whitmer. The fund will likely run out of money this spring, though usually, the state borrows from the federal government to alleviate such problems.

Hertel seemed to back this idea that the Governor and Legislature would be able to find a solution that brought 26 weeks of unemployment to Michiganders without having “any corporate tax breaks,” adding that while this was urgent residents would not see any losses in unemployment insurance until the end of May – when the 21st week of unemployment would fall – buying the body some time to negotiate on a solution.

He went on to add that because the state could not know what unemployment would look like in 2021, it could not be said that $220 million would definitively make a difference or not, saying: “none of that has been determined by the Legislature at any level. At that point, we’re just picking a number out of thin air.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature and then-Gov. Rick Snyder reduced the number of benefit weeks from 26 to 20 in 2011. It also has declined to raise the maximum weekly benefit for almost 20 years.

“I think 26 weeks should be permanent and it shouldn’t be based on … whether we give a corporate tax break or not. I think the two shouldn’t be related,” he said. “That being said, I think we’re all open to having discussions – there obviously have been federal stimulus dollars that have been passed … I’m not opposed to working with the Legislature and the governor on a reasonable negotiation of what the answer is.”

Whether that’s likely to happen, however, is unclear.

Spokespersons for both Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) indicated that it was Gov. Whitmer’s veto that is the culprit for shortening unemployment for those that file in 2021 – meaning it is her burden to see Michiganders out of this conundrum.

“The $220 million supported by Republicans and Democrats would have addressed the issue,” Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann said, of a six-week extension to benefits. “Whitmer vetoed that funding. I’d say it’s up to the governor to offer a solution to the problem she created.”

House Republican spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro reaffirmed the sentiment, adding that the need to find a new solution to 26 weeks of unemployment would have been unnecessary if Gov. Whitmer had approved the $220 million as part of the supplemental – as originally intended.

“It’s a little disingenuous to demand the Legislature fix something you refuse to admit you broke,” he said.

And Wentworth, in a statement, said Gov. Whitmer needed “to be honest about what happened last week” so that the Legislature and her administration could work together to “fix her mistake.”

“We don’t know if Gov. Whitmer accidentally eliminated a month and a half of unemployment benefits for Michigan’s working families, or if she did it on purpose. We do know her administration is on record lying about her veto of benefits last week, misleading workers who need answers,” Wentworth said. “Whether she admits it or not, the facts are clear – anyone filing for unemployment between now and April will have fewer benefits because of her veto. People need the truth.”

He went on to add: “The bottom line is that the governor’s veto cut off benefits for the very people put out of work by her own actions. It is a cruel game that working people cannot win, and it is well past time we all stop playing it.”


Whitmer Signs Several Criminal Justice Reform Packages

Criminal justice reform bills aimed at reducing jail time through reducing penalties for some lower-level offenses and allowing better access to employment and government benefits for past offenders were signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday.

Two of the packages were based on recommendations from the Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration.

Gov. Whitmer in a statement praised the bipartisan legislative moves to create more equity in the state’s criminal justice system.

“Over the last two years, we’ve worked with leaders on both sides of the aisle to make Michigan a national leader on criminal justice reform,” Gov. Whitmer said. “I want to thank Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II and Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, along with the bipartisan members of the task force, for their leadership in this effort. Today proves that it is possible to make tremendous progress to improve our state when we work together to get things done.”

A Senate package focused on reducing jail time for some misdemeanor offenses, allowing for the issuance of appearance tickets for certain misdemeanors and requiring a summons instead of a warrant in all cases, except for assaultive and domestic violence offenses. The Senate bills also expedite bench warrants if a person voluntarily reports in an attempt to keep low-level offenders out of jail.

Other changes in the Senate package include shortening the maximum probation period for most felony convictions from five years to three years, exempting domestic violence-related crimes.

The package included SB 1046, SB 1047, SB 1048, SB 1049, SB 1050, and SB 1051, now Public Acts 393 through 398.

Several House bills were also signed that eliminate mandatory minimums for many low-level offenses and reduces penalties for some driving-related offenses. Some of the mandatory minimums are removed from statute including within the Motor Vehicle Code, School Code, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Railroad Code, and Public Health Code.

Signed were HB 5844, HB 5846, HB 5847, HB 5849, HB 5850, HB 5851, HB 5852, HB 5853, HB 5854, HB 5855, HB 5856, HB 5857, and HB 6235, now Public Acts 375 through 387.

Lt. Gov. Gilchrist in a statement called the efforts of the last two years significant.

“Before Gov. Whitmer and I took office, the system didn’t work for families, communities, or our state as a whole, but we made a conscious effort to make our state a national leader in reform, and the results speak for themselves,” Lt. Gov. Gilchrist said. “We must continue to work together to find ways to provide second chances through a smarter, safer, and more effective justice system.”

Another area of criminal justice reform signed into law Monday was in the area of occupational licensing. Changes in the bills would allow those with criminal records to obtain an occupational license by changing the definition of “good moral character” in statute and amending how a civil judgment or criminal conviction can be considered when determining good moral character.

Those bills, also signed by Gov. Whitmer, were: HB 4488, HB 4489, HB 4490, HB 4491, HB 4492, and SB 293, now Public Acts 368 to 372 and PA 388, respectively.

“These bills will help end the prejudice against people with a criminal record who have paid their debt to society and are seeking to better themselves, provide for their families and contribute to Michigan’s economy,” Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), sponsor of the Senate bill in the package, said in a statement. “This will have a real impact on many Michiganders by giving them a fair shot at a second chance.”

Two bills, SB 681 (PA 361) and SB 682 (PA 362), will allow juveniles to have traffic offenses set aside as well as automatic expungement for certain offenses and ensuring most juvenile court records are unavailable to the public.

Also signed was SB 700 (PA 389), which would among other things limit the use of secure juvenile detention facilities for status offenders. Changes elsewhere in statute to match these changes are in SB 893 (PA 390) and SB 894 (PA 391).

Residents who have committed drug-related offenses would have access to federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits under SB 1006 (PA 392), which the Governor also signed.

The Governor also signed:

HB 5417
PA 363
Do Not Resuscitate Orders (Warren) Allows a parent or guardian to execute a do-not-resuscitate order on behalf of certain children.
Signed: Jan. 4, 2021, Effective: April 3, 2021
HB 5418
PA 364
Do-not-resuscitate Orders (Warren) Creates filing, storage, and notice rules regarding do-not-resuscitate orders and comfort or care plans and limitation of liability for providing these measures.
Signed: Jan. 4, 2021, Effective: April 3, 2021
HB 5419
PA 365
Do-not-resuscitate Orders (Rendon) Authorizes a guardian of a minor to execute.
Signed: Jan. 4, 2021, Effective: April 3, 2021
HB 5575
PA 373
Strategic Fund (Cole) Modifies rural jobs and capital investment fund program.
Signed: Jan. 4, 2021, Effective: March 24, 2021
HB 5735
PA 374
Driver’s Licenses (Iden) Provides for extension of renewal date for enhanced driver licenses and enhanced state identification cards during a declared emergency.
Signed: Jan. 4, 2021, Effective: Jan. 4, 2021
SB 1075
PA 399
Property Conveyance (McBroom) Authorizes the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget to convey or transfer state-owned property in Gogebic County.
Signed: Jan. 4, 2021, Effective: Jan. 4, 2021
SB 1077
PA 400
Marihuana Registry (Hollier) Transfers Marihuana Registry Fund revenues to the Michigan Set Aside Fund for fiscal year 2019-20.
Signed: Jan. 4, 2021, Effective: Jan. 4, 2021
SB 1200
PA 401
State Police (Barrett) Provides oversight authority within the Student Safety Act to the Department of State Police.
Signed: Jan. 4, 2021, Effective: Jan. 4, 2021