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Oct. 2 | This Week In Government: 2021 Budget Signed, Additional Reopenings Announced

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 Mostly Lauded Budget; Gets Some Swipes
  2. Expungement Bills Officially Going to Gov in ‘Big Day’ for Michigan
  3. More Reopenings Ahead for Still Shuttered Businesses Under Latest Order
  4. Broadband Grant Program Passes in Senate
  5. Emergency, Other COVID Measures Extended in Latest Executive Orders

Whitmer Signs Mostly Lauded Budget; Gets Some Swipes

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed the $62.8 billion 2020-21 budget passed one week ago and taking effect Thursday with little criticism – a stark contrast from last year – though there were a few swipes taken at her action.

While the budget passed with wide, bipartisan majorities after an unusual closed-door process, Gov. Whitmer did line-item veto a $100 placeholder for reimbursement for private schools, which the Great Lakes Education Project and the Michigan Catholic Conference blasted in separate statements.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) took the opportunity to criticize Gov. Whitmer for her actions during last year’s budget standoff and her new coronavirus pandemic response after she signed SB 927 (PA 165) and HB 5396 (PA 166).

“We were able to achieve this by working together – not alone, like @GovWhitmer did last year and throughout the pandemic,” Mr. Shirkey tweeted. “The budget that we passed this year shows what can be done when we work together as our founding fathers intended.”

The budget, given a boost of federal funds, was able to keep education funding and revenue sharing flat, which is an improvement from dramatic cuts that were feared earlier this year. K-12 spending did get a slight boost.

“It’s been an incredibly challenging budget cycle. The 2021 budget development process was different because it had to be different – through no choice of our own, though,” Gov. Whitmer said during a press call with reporters after signing the bills. “It’s not what I wanted. It’s not what my administration wanted. It’s not what the legislative leaders would have chosen. But it’s what we had, and the good news is that we succeeded.”

A huge upswing in forecasted revenue spared Gov. Whitmer and lawmakers from a feared $3 billion shortfall. Instead, they reduced General Fund spending by $250 million mostly through funding shifts, not through cuts to programs.

The remaining federal coronavirus relief funds allowed Gov. Whitmer and lawmakers to repurpose General Fund elsewhere. It allowed the swapping out of $191 million in General Fund for Department of Corrections payroll, $45.5 million in General Fund from the Department of State Police budget, and $22.5 million General Fund at state psychiatric hospitals.

The budget also includes $12.6 million for the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program to ensure women are given the care they need to have a healthy pregnancy and to expand support for interventions that are proven to improve outcomes, a top priority for Gov. Whitmer, $2.5 million to provide first responders with the mental health services and $20 million in additional support for nursing homes for COVID-19-related cost increases.

Gov. Whitmer said several boilerplate sections were unenforceable. Those include items seeking “weekly” reports from the Department of Corrections and another piece seeking to “micromanage” workplace policies and other things in the Department of State Police and Department of Military and Veterans Affairs budget.

Gov. Whitmer also said a section of boilerplate within the Department of Health and Human Services that would bar the department from contracting with an entity that engages in elective abortions was unenforceable.

On the placeholder veto, which would provide reimbursement funds to private schools, an issue currently being litigated, the Catholic Conference and GLEP said the move was unfair.

“The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled in support of ensuring every student in the state is educated in a healthy and safe environment, regardless of where they attend school,” a statement from the Catholic Conference said. “As the policy awaits oral arguments at the state Supreme Court, the Legislature had inserted a budget placeholder should the high court agree with the lower court’s ruling. While Gov. Whitmer continues to insist on a two-tiered education system in the state, where some students are more important than others, her veto of the placeholder was to be expected. Just and fair, it certainly was not.”

The budget process was unusual in several different ways, including that it was done mostly behind closed doors until the day it was passed. Gov. Whitmer said in a press call with voters that she regrets it was the case but pointed to the problems COVID-19 created and the condensed negotiation period following the August revenue conference.

“I recognize that in an ordinary year, there’s a lot more ability for the public to participate,” she said. “I regret that that wasn’t able to happen in the midst of all the crises that we are confronting.”

Other groups praised the budget. Part of the budget included the restoration of funding for Pure Michigan, Going PRO, and Michigan Reconnect, which business groups hailed in particular.

“The Small Business Association of Michigan thanks Gov. Whitmer and legislative leaders for their bipartisan work and cooperation on a new state budget that invests in Michigan’s workforce,” SBAM President Brian Calley said in a statement. “This kind of investment in workforce development will absolutely pay dividends in growing income and prosperity levels for Michiganders around the state.”

Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy K. Baruah said in a statement distributed by the governor’s office that for the state to succeed, it needs effective tools to help residents get the skills the economy demands.

“I could not be more pleased that Gov. Whitmer and the Legislature have prioritized the Michigan Reconnect program in this difficult budget year,” he said. “It is a proven model to help adults in the workforce achieve their next level of skill development and professional success that also strengthens the talent pipeline for employers.”

Brian Peters with the Michigan Health and Hospital Association of Michigan also praised the budget in a statement.

“This has been an unprecedented year and the Michigan Health & Hospital Association applauds the signing today by Gov. Whitmer of the fiscal year 2021 state budget that provides much-needed support and relief to Michigan hospitals,” he said. “This funding protects mothers and babies, supports critical access hospitals, and provides the first statewide outpatient Medicaid fee increase since 2002 – all of which are vital to maintain access to care for patients across our state. We thank the state Legislature and Governor Whitmer and her administration for completing a state budget that puts health care first.”

Related: State Budget Includes Nearly $60M For Education, Workforce Development

Expungement Bills Officially Going to Gov in ‘Big Day’ for Michigan

A package of bills making it easier and in some cases automatic for residents to get past convictions erased from their record saw final approval in the House on Thursday, sending the bills to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The Senate on Wednesday passed the legislation – HB 4980, HB 4981, HB 4982, HB 4983, HB 4984, HB 4985, and HB 5120 – with the House having to concur on some bills Thursday.

HB 5120 was sponsored by the late Rep. Isaac Robinson (D-Detroit), who saw a tribute on the House floor Thursday as the bill moved.

“Today is a big day for Michigan! Passing these expungement bills will greatly help people’s lives. These mean a lot. Thank you to the administration, legislative leaders. … This was truly a team effort,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) wrote on Twitter. “These bills help all of Michigan, but they are especially important for the city of Detroit. My late friend and colleague, Isaac Robinson, knew that and helped launch this reform to help people get jobs and back on their feet. I’m glad this gets to be a part of his lasting legacy.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the bills would mean a doubling of the number of Detroiters who can see convictions removed from their records to more than 160,000 residents.

“Expungement means opportunity, and now thousands more Detroiters won’t be defined and held back by their past mistakes,” Duggan said. “For one Project Clean Slate client, his expungement has meant going from making $10/hour to making $26/hour, for others it means going back to school to pursue a dream or career goals, for others it might mean shedding a life-long stigma, and for others still it could mean being able to chaperone their child on a field trip.”

John Cooper, executive director of Safe and Just Michigan, a key advocacy group in seeking the expungement bills, said old criminal records create barriers to goods jobs and housing, even after decades of lawful behavior.

“Michigan’s current expungement process is too narrow and too burdensome to help the vast majority of people who could benefit from it. This is in spite of the fact that people who receive expungements in Michigan are less likely to commit a crime than a member of the general public, and see, on average, a 23 percent increase in income within a year of getting their records sealed,” Cooper said in a statement. “Safe & Just Michigan is grateful for all the hard work of reform advocates, Clean Slate’s legislative champions, and other supporters over the last two years to make this day possible. This is a milestone in state criminal record-sealing policy that will help hundreds of thousands of people in Michigan and help drive the national conversation on reform forward.”

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) said in a statement the current process traps people “in a never-ending cycle of punishment.”

“This results in needless barriers for Michiganders with past criminal convictions when trying to find housing and employment, putting them at a higher risk for homelessness and recidivism,” she said. “Now, with the passage of these new laws, we can help our fellow citizens who are trying to rebuild their lives and put an end to the endless cycle that trapped them. I am so proud to have been a part of this process and I know this legislation will help thousands get their lives and their loved ones back.”

More Reopenings Ahead for Still Shuttered Businesses Under Latest Order

Theaters, performance venues, and arcades, along with other facilities that have been closed for six months under COVID-19-related orders, will be allowed to open with limited capacity beginning on Oct. 9, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Friday.

Gov. Whitmer is also requiring students in grades K-5 to wear masks in most of the state other than the Upper Peninsula and some counties in the northern Lower Peninsula (Regions 6 and 8).

Further, school districts and nonpublic schools will now be required to publish information about any cases of probable or confirmed COVID-19 cases among those present on school property or at a school function.

Indoor theaters, cinemas, performance venues, millionaire parties, and amusement services or facilities – like amusement parks, arcades, ice rinks, and others – can also reopen under Executive Order 2020-183.

“Michigan took some of the most aggressive action against COVID-19 in the country, and as a result, the health of our families and our economy are faring better than our neighbors in other states. As a result, we are now able to reopen movie theaters and performance venues with strict safety measures in place. I know these business owners have made incredible sacrifices during this crisis to protect our families and frontline workers, and my administration will continue working to help them get back on their feet,” Gov. Whitmer said in a statement. “We are not out of the woods yet, and we will continue to monitor the effects of these incremental changes. Right now, the federal government and all 50 states have been under some form of state of emergency. We must stay the course and continue fighting this virus on behalf of our families, frontline workers, and our small businesses.”

The reopening order revises upward the limit on non-residential indoor gatherings from 10 people to 20 people per 1,000 square feet or 20% of fixed seating capacity, with a maximum of 500 people allowed in the state’s largest venues.

Instead of being limited to 100 people, non-residential outdoor gatherings and events now must limit attendance to 30 people per 1,000 square feet or 30% of fixed seating capacity, with a maximum of 1,000 people. Regions 6 and 8 – in the U.P. and portions of northern Michigan – are subject to the same rules covered in the revised order, except non-residential indoor venues may allow up to 25 people per 1,000 square feet or 25% of fixed seating capacity, with a maximum of 500 people in the regions’ largest venues.

Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association President Justin Winslow praised the reopenings in a statement Friday.

“We welcome the governor’s announcement today to increase capacity for meeting and banquet spaces and appreciate her willingness to listen to an industry that has been decimated since the onset of the pandemic,” he said. “Increasing capacity to 20 people per 1,000 square feet to the rest of the state – while increasing to 25 people per 1,000 square feet for Regions 6 and 8 – is a step in the right direction to give Michigan’s hospitality industry a better shot at remaining open and viable as the colder winter months approach. We look forward to continuing to work with this administration on common sense solutions that allow for safe expansion of dining indoors.”

Business groups and other advocates have been urging the reopening of the businesses that remained shuttered for some time.

Entertainment venues will have to take a variety of actions as they reopen, like collecting at least names and phone numbers of attendees to for contact tracing purposes, mandating facial coverings at all times, and establishing safe exit procedures at sports and entertainment facilities.

The new mask requirement for younger students – it had previously been recommended but not required – comes as the state enters a “precarious” moment in fighting the new coronavirus, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said in a statement.

“This new mask requirement is so important to protect students and educators, and to keep our schools open,” she said. “This year, it’s more important than ever that Michiganders across the state get their flu vaccine as soon as possible, mask up, and maintain at least six feet of physical distancing. Let’s all be smart and stay safe.”

The orders issued Friday also allow more people to attend funerals, a move praised by the Michigan Funeral Directors Association in a statement issued by the governor’s office.

“One of the many unfortunate side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that bereaved families across Michigan have not had the opportunity attend the rituals, services and ceremonies that allow them to pay their respects and process their grief over the loss of a loved one,” said Phil Douma, executive director of the group. “Increasing the number of people able to attend a funeral is the right thing to do, and grieving families across our state can now more properly mourn their losses and honor those they love.”

Related: New Executive Orders Reopen Venues Like Movie Theaters, Bowling Alleys; Boost Mask Requirements In Schools

Broadband Grant Program Passes in Senate

Areas lacking broadband access could see broadband service under a bill establishing a new grant program passed Thursday in the Senate.

HB 4288 would require the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget to establish and implement the statewide program within 60 days after receiving an appropriation (roughly $14 million was included as part of the budget passed last week). The grants would go toward internet service providers to help cover the cost of adding broadband in unserved areas.

The legislation would establish conditions and the process by which the grants would be set and distributed to those recipients.

At the Senate Energy and Technology Committee on Tuesday, Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) repeatedly asked the bill sponsor, Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton), why she has yet to act on a separate broadband bill that has been sitting in the House Communications and Technology Committee she chairs since its introduction 19 months ago.

That bill (HB 4268) would eliminate the personal property tax for all broadband facilities installed in unserved or underserved rural areas.

Nesbitt said the bill would “encourage hundreds of millions of dollars in underserved areas.” HB 4268 is sponsored by Rep. Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan), who like Nesbitt is from Van Buren County.

“Why wasn’t that a part of this package?” he said several times. “I don’t think this is really doing enough.”

Hoitenga said she did not know the bill to which Nesbitt was referring.

“This is something we could get everyone on board with,” she said of her own legislation.

Nesbitt, after peppering Hoitenga a couple more times about the status of other legislation in her committee, proposed an amendment placing a tie-bar between HB 4288 and HB 4268, meaning that both bills must be passed and signed into law to take effect. The tax incentive in HB 4268 would “really think a lot bigger and would be a good key part of a larger package.”

Of HB 4288, Nesbitt said, “We’re thinking small.”

The committee adopted Nesbitt’s amendment on a 6-2 vote.

The bill, which the committee reported to the full Senate on a 7-1 vote, also came under attack on other fronts. Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo) and Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) questioned why local governments and school districts, some of which provide broadband service, were ineligible for the program under Hoitenga’s bill.

Hoitenga responded to Bumstead’s concerns by telling him he “should put that in a bill.”

She said free market providers do not want to compete where governments offer broadband.

“Let’s help these providers get where they need to go,” she said.

Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said the focus on helping the free market was misplaced given that the bill would direct taxpayer funds to commercial enterprise to convince them to set up broadband service in a place the market on its own is not supporting.

Local government and school groups registered opposition to the legislation on this point.

Sen. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway), the committee chair, said he would continue to work with groups as the bill moves to the full Senate, but there is time pressure to act now, citing broadband auctions taking place in October.

Matt Groen, executive director of the Michigan Cable Telecommunications Association, which supports the bill, said the state has had four major appropriations in the last three years related to broadband. The bill sets the parameters for the expenditure of those funds, he said. The bill also has support from the Telecommunications Association of Michigan, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Manufacturers Association, and AT&T.

“If you are going to assign money to deal with the issue of rural broadband being expanded, then it is extremely important to have guardrails on there,” Groen said. “This money will make a difference with unserved households because it will have guardrails in place.”

Emergency, Other COVID Measures Extended in Latest Executive Orders

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday extended the state of emergency related to the new coronavirus pandemic until Oct. 27 while also keeping in place various protections and restrictions on health care facilities and grocery stores as she signed five executive orders.

Gov. Whitmer extended the emergency, which was set to expire Oct. 1; extended until Oct. 31 a previous order allowing businesses to be conducted remotely through expanded use of e-notaries and e-signatures; extended restrictions on entry into health care and residential care facilities; extended protocols for prison and jail populations until Oct. 31; and added protections for food-selling establishment workers to another order, which includes a requirement to maintain two hours a week of reserved shopping time for vulnerable populations.

A statement from the Governor’s office said the state’s seven-day case positivity rate has remained between 3% and 3.7% since July. During that same period, the state has remained between 61 and 71 daily new cases per million people by date of symptom onset.

The declared emergency allows the state to mobilize resources and take “reasonable and necessary steps” to protect residents, the statement said.

“We have saved thousands of lives in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among our most vulnerable populations – people of color, seniors, and people with disabilities. Because we took swift action, the health of our families and our economy are faring better than our neighbors in other states,” Gov. Whitmer said in a statement. “This emergency will end, and it is a matter of months. But we are not out of the woods yet. Right now, the federal government and all 50 states have been under some form of state of emergency. We must continue doing our part to fight this virus on behalf of our families, frontline workers, and our small businesses.”

Related: Gov. Whitmer Extends State of Emergency Through Oct. 27