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Oct. 16 | This Week in Government: COVID-19 Bills Aim to Replace Invalid Executive Orders; Gov. Signs Expungement Bills

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. See below for this week’s headlines.

  1. Whitmer Signs Bills to Ease Expungement of Crimes
  2. ELCRA Expansion Moves Forward With Sigs Submitted
  3. Bills on Nursing Homes, Unemployment During COVID Sent to Gov
  4. Whitmer Expected to Sign Biz Liability, COVID Bills
  5. MIOSHA Issues Emergency Rules on Workplace COVID Protocols

Whitmer Signs Bills to Ease Expungement of Crimes

Another major criminal justice reform is now law with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signing legislation making it easier, and in some cases automatic, for residents to get past convictions erased from their record.

It is the latest sweeping criminal justice package to become law during the 2019-20 legislative term.

“This is a historic day in Michigan. These bipartisan bills are a game changer for people who are seeking opportunities for employment, housing, and more, and they will help ensure a clean slate for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders,” Gov. Whitmer said in a statement. “This is also an opportunity to grow our workforce and expand access to job training and education for so many people. I am proud to sign these bills today alongside Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist and many of the bipartisan leaders who worked on them.”

Gov. Whitmer signed HB 4980, HB 4981, HB 4982, HB 4983, HB 4984, HB 4985, and HB 5120. There was no indication as of yet that they had been filed with the Office of the Great Seal prior to the close of business Monday and so do not yet have public act numbers.

The bills set up an automatic process for setting aside eligible misdemeanors after seven years and some non-assaultive felonies after 10 years, expands the number and types of felonies and misdemeanors eligible to be set aside, revises the waiting period before someone can apply for expungement, treats multiple felonies or misdemeanor convictions arising from the same offense as a single felony or misdemeanor in some circumstances, adds traffic offenses as those eligible for expungement and allows for expungement of a marijuana offense if it would now be legal in Michigan because of the legalization of recreational marijuana use.

Like the other criminal justice packages before it, this one had overwhelming bipartisan support.

“Every public servant strives to work on policies that give Michiganders more opportunities to access jobs and educational opportunities,” said Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “These expungement reforms will do just that, while at the same time increasing public safety and helping keep people invested in their communities. I was proud to work in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion to get these nation-leading reforms done.”


ELCRA Expansion Moves Forward With Sigs Submitted

After years of calls to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include LGBT individuals, the effort took a significant step forward Tuesday as a group seeking to get the measure on the ballot submitted nearly 500,000 signatures to the state.

The petition initiative campaign Fair and Equal Michigan submitted 483,461 signatures to the Bureau of Elections. If the state determines the group submitted the 340,047 valid signatures necessary, the Legislature gets 40 days to pass the legislation or the issue will be on the 2022 ballot.

Fair and Equal Michigan Co-Chair Trevor Thomas said in a statement the almost 30-year-long fight has accomplished these signatures due to the courage of residents and representatives.

“Our grassroots of nearly 500,000 people and the submission of signatures in a pandemic stems from the decades of changing hearts and minds by the Michiganders who have shared their story with their family and friends of who they are and who they love,” Thomas said in a statement. “We have never forgotten and deeply admire the activists and leaders who charged ahead of us including Rep. Jim Dressel, Rep. Daisy Elliott, and Rep. Mel Larsen.”

Originally, the group sought to have the issue on the 2020 ballot, but the new coronavirus pandemic halted their efforts. Earlier this year, the campaign received relief through the Court of Claims as it extended the amount of time some of its signatures could remain valid to match the period of time the residents were ordered to mostly stay home at the height of the pandemic.

Several organizations, including prominent business groups, have endorsed the proposal with some – like Business Leaders for Michigan – providing significant financial contributions. The Detroit Regional Chamber, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Dow, Hemlock Semiconductor, and others have signaled support.


Bills on Nursing Homes, Unemployment During COVID Sent to Gov

The House and Senate on Tuesday made final revisions to legislation dealing with COVID-19 policies surrounding unemployment, virtual meetings, and nursing homes and sent the bills to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

Legislation allowing public bodies to meet remotely, implementing task force recommendations on housing COVID-19 patients in centers run by nursing homes and extending unemployment benefits for those out of work were among the top issues decided during a lengthy session day.

House and Senate action became necessary to extend various measures Gov. Whitmer took through executive orders that were rendered moot following a Supreme Court decision. Negotiations went all day as lawmakers looked to pass not only the bills dealing with COVID-19 orders, but employer liability protections as well.

As the House passed bills extending the duration of unemployment benefits, it removed the tie-bar to the liability bills.

SB 886, which would expand unemployment benefits to 26 weeks and put into statute other COVID-19-related provisions previously covered through an executive order, passed 101-0 in the House before the Senate concurred unanimously.

The bill would waive the requirement that an unemployed individual be actively seeking work if they are laid off and the employer says it is temporary, allow work-share plans to continue and put in COVID-related reasons a person may have involuntarily left work for medical reasons, like they had close contact with a COVID-positive person or they needed to care for someone with the virus.

Additionally, the tie-bar to a separate package of business liability bills was removed from SB 886.

SB 911, which passed the House and Senate unanimously, would allow retired state employees to return to work at the Unemployment Insurance Agency under certain conditions.

On nursing homes, the House altered SB 1094, separating the data reporting requirement into HB 6137 after it was discharged from the House Families, Children and Seniors Committee. SB 1094 would require the Department of Health and Human Services to implement dedicated facilities to house COVID-19 positive patients.

Both bills passed the House unanimously. The Senate concurred in the changes to the Senate bill 36-1.

The revised version of the bill also provides a temporary exemption for facilities to retain positive patients until the new recovery centers are up and running. The bill would create care and recovery centers within nursing homes similar to what the state moved toward following a task force’s recommendations.

These recovery centers would have to apply to DHHS and demonstrate various requirements to implement a recovery center, including having a three-star rating and that they have enough dedicated staff.

SB 1108 would allow public bodies to conduct remote meetings that include two-way communication allowing the public to participate under certain circumstances.

It also further outlines that public bodies are allowed to meet remotely through Jan. 1, 2021 starting at March 18, 2020, under any circumstances; for the entirety of 2021 if a board or council member has a medical condition, there is a state of emergency or because of military duty and after Dec. 31, 2021, only in the circumstance of accommodating members absent due to military duty, as is current law.

The House passed the bill 85-18 with the Senate later concurring 36-1, sending the bill to Gov. Whitmer.

HB 6192 also passed both chambers Tuesday and would extend the validity of vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses that expired after March 1, 2020, but are renewed by Dec. 11, 2020. The bill passed the Senate 37-0 and then the House with this vote before being enrolled.

HOUSE OKS MORE BILLS: The House also passed HB 6294, HB 6295, HB 6296, and HB 6297, which will not go to the governor just yet as the Senate will need to later deal with the bills. The legislation would allow for the remote signing, witnessing, notarization, and recording of certain documents from April 30, 2020 until Dec. 31, 2020. Those bills passed 102-1 with the final bill passing 101-1.

HB 6293 would allow certain qualified licensees – pharmacists, advanced practice registered nurses, and a physician’s assistants, among others – to perform COVID-19 testing services until June 30, 2021. It passed the House 103-0.

Other bills passed unanimously Tuesday (HB 5756 and HB 5757) would prohibit the Department of State from assessing a late renewal fee on identification cards or driver’s license if they expire on or after March 1, 2020, and are renewed by Dec. 11, 2020.


Whitmer Expected to Sign Biz Liability, COVID Bills

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign legislation codifying various COVID-19 measures passed by the Legislature on Tuesday along with business liability bills she initially resisted.

The House and Senate held long session days on Tuesday as they negotiated with the governor on the liability package and coronavirus measures related to unemployment, nursing homes, remote meetings for public bodies, and driver’s license expiration.

Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said Wednesday she anticipates the governor will sign the liability bills – Republican leadership indicated Tuesday they had reached a deal with the governor and removed a tie-bar on the legislation – though noted only businesses following the state’s rules are protected from coronavirus-related litigation.

On the other measures, Brown said the moves need to be permanent. The bills have various sunsets with some ending at the end of 2020.

“It’s good the Legislature took a step forward to provide immediate, temporary relief for families – but the bills just kick the can down the road and the Legislature needs to take further action to make this permanent,” Brown said.

Bills passed Tuesday would extend the duration of unemployment benefits to 26 weeks, among other changes to the state’s unemployment benefits law (SB 886), allow retired state employees to work at the Unemployment Insurance Agency (SB 911), detail how nursing homes can house COVID-19 positive patients (SB 1094), allow public bodies to meet remotely (SB 1108) and extend the validity of vehicle registration and driver’s license (HB 6192).

The other bills would provide coronavirus liability protections to businesses under certain conditions (HB 6030, HB 6031, HB 6032, and HB 6101).


MIOSHA Issues Emergency Rules on Workplace COVID Protocols

Safety requirements employers must follow to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces were clarified on Wednesday through emergency rules issued by Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration covering cleaning protocols, training requirements, and more.

The emergency rules will be in place for six months and are also broken down by specific businesses, operations, or facilities – including casinos, construction, gyms and fitness centers, in-home services, pre-K schools, restaurants and bars, entertainment facilities, and more.

“While most Michigan job providers are doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19, these rules provide them with clarity regarding the necessary requirements to keep their workplaces safe and their employees healthy,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “I will continue to work around the clock with my partners in labor and business to ensure protections for every Michigan worker.”

Under the rules (MOAHR 2020-213) – similar to what was in place through executive order – businesses that resume in-person work must have a written COVID-19 preparedness and response plan and provide thorough training to their employees that covers workplace infection-control practices, the proper use of personal protection equipment, steps workers must take to notify the business or operation of any symptoms of COVID-19 or a suspected or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, and how to report unsafe working conditions.

“Small business owners are dedicated to providing safe workplaces. Consistent, practical, and clear rules are important to achieving that goal,” said Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, in the statement the governor’s office distributed. “We welcome the initiation of the departmental rule-making process to establish predicable and well defined expectations.”

Since March 2020, employers have reported 30 worker deaths from COVID-19 in Michigan and 127 inpatient hospitalizations potentially linked to workplace exposure, the state said. MIOSHA has received more than 3,800 complaints from employees alleging uncontrolled COVID-19 hazards in the workplace and 263 referrals from local government, including local health departments, indicating that businesses were not taking all the necessary measures to protect their employees from infection.

The rules require employers to create policies prohibiting in-person work for those who can feasibly work remotely, require self-screening protocols for employees, and direct employees to report any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 while prohibiting those workers from reporting to work or sending them away from the workplace. They also require notification of any positive cases to those who were in close contact with the positive individual.

“As we reengage our economy, the governor’s actions reiterate the importance to keep workplaces safe for employees and protect customers from COVID-19 transmission,” said COVID-19 Workplace Safety Director Sean Egan. “These rules will formalize the workplace safety guidelines previously in place, and are necessary to save lives. We will continue to educate workers and employers on requirements for businesses to get open and stay open.”

The state has resources online for businesses, including sample preparedness plans and a reopening checklist. Additionally, a new ambassador program will send safety and health experts to businesses for education and support.