Senate Republicans slam DHHS emergency powers, join Dems on water shutoffs, criminal justice, unemployment votes

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

The state Senate passed a bill Thursday that would limit the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) emergency powers during the pandemic unless granted approval by the Legislature. 

Senate Bill 1253, introduced by Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), will likely be vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer if it passes through the House. 

The bill would change public health code to require legislative approval if a state mandate extends beyond 28 days. 

The state Supreme Court in October overturned the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, which Whitmer used as the basis of many of her orders. But many of the COVID-19 mandates she issued remained in place through the DHHS issuing its own set of epidemic orders, including limits on indoor seating in restaurants and bars, closing high schools and colleges and mandating masks in public spaces. 

State extends COVID-19 restrictions amid ‘alarmingly high’ hospitalizations

The bill passed through the Senate with a 22-16 vote and is headed to the House once it returns again for session. 

The House canceled session this week because of concerns around the Capitol following Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis testing positive for COVID-19 after their maskless appearances at an Oversight Committee hearing in Michigan last week. 

There is currently only three days left of scheduled Lame Duck voting sessions. 

Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) offered an amendment to SB 1253 that would have codified the mask mandate inside public spaces and when social distancing isn’t possible. The amendment was shot down by the Senate Thursday with a 16-22 vote.

When given the chance to support the best tool we have to mitigate the spread of COVID, they refused,” Brinks tweeted about the vote split along party lines. 

A bill that would prohibit water shutoffs during the pandemic, something Democrats have been pushing for for months, did pass through the Senate Thursday. 

Senate Bill 241, introduced by Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), passed with a 30-8 vote. The bill will now go to the House. 

Is your water shut off? You can get it reconnected through 2020.

A bill to expand unemployment benefits until March 31, 2021, three months longer than what was initially established, and provide $250 million in continued funding, passed through the Senate with a unanimous vote. 

Senate Bill 749, introduced by Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), will go to the House. 

A bipartisan criminal justice reform bill package, House Bills 44884492, almost got an entirely unanimous passage through the Senate Thursday. All but one bill, HB 4489, which Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Twp.) voted against, had the support of all the state’s senators. 

The bills would end automatic driver license suspensions for unpaid fines and eliminate mandatory jail time for low-level crimes and remove barriers for people with criminal records to obtain occupational licences. 

“For too long, outdated state laws have used the guise of ‘moral character’ to keep a variety of secure and good-paying positions out of reach for residents with a criminal record. And due to longstanding racial inequities in every area of the justice system, these laws have inordinately interfered with Black and Brown residents’ ability to find stable employment,” said Michigan League for Public Policy External Affairs Director Alex Rossman. “Broadening career opportunities is one of many ways to help all justice-involved individuals build a better life, and today’s action recognizes that redemption and personal growth are as indicative of character as a clear criminal record.”

Next, the bills will go back to the House to concur on changes before going to Whitmer’s desk to be signed.