Updated, 10:07 a.m., 10/14/20, with comments from Whitmer’s office
In a marathon session, complete with ongoing negotiation between the GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the state House and Senate on Wednesday finalized bills to address COVID-19 policies centering on unemployment benefits and business liability. The activity spanned from Tuesday morning until the wee hours of Wednesday.
The House passed bills extending the length of unemployment benefits but removed a tie-bar to the liability bills, which had been a key concern of many Democrats and union officials. Shielding businesses from COVID-19-related lawsuits has been a top priority for business groups like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
Legislative action became necessary after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 2 that the 1945 emergency powers law Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used for her emergency COVID-19 orders was unconstitutional.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) tweeted: “We have a deal on unemployment benefits and liability reform! The tie bar is no longer necessary, because we found common ground. Thank you @GovWhitmer and @SenMikeShirkey for your work and bipartisan cooperation. Great news for working families and small businesses!”
In unanimous fashion, the House and Senate approved Senate Bill 886, which expands unemployment benefits to 26 weeks and included COVID-19-related provisions previously covered through an executive order.
The bill will now go to Whitmer’s desk. Spokeswoman Tiffany Brown had urged the Legislature to pass legislation earlier on Tuesday: “The new ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court could potentially lead to hundreds of thousands of Michiganders losing their unemployment benefits in a matter of days. These are men and women who have lost work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic who are struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table for themselves and their families.”
Brown told the Advance on Wednesday morning: “The legislation essentially codifies actions the governor took months ago. 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.”*
In addition, the Senate approved a package of bills that will provide coronavirus liability protections to businesses. The body also passed a bill focused on health care worker immunity.
The Senate approved House Bill 6030 and House Bill 6031, which passed in 23-14; House Bill 6032, which passed 37-0; and House Bill 6101, which passed 29-8. It also passed House Bill 6159, which is a health care workers immunity bill. It, too, passed in a 29-8 vote.
The House is scheduled to come back Oct. 21 and 28, which is unusual during an election year when members typically are on the campaign trail during this time.