By Bryan Davis, MAFF Legal Analyst

Due to the widespread economic impacts realized as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), federal funding has been a subject of significant concern and importance. Over the past several weeks, emergency federal funding has been allocated towards combating the spread of COVID-19 and, at this point in time, funding has occurred through two separate bills.

The first phase of federal funding was found in an emergency spending bill, aimed at bolstering response efforts to the outbreak of the coronavirus, with approximately $7.8 billion being allocated to directly address the outbreak and another $500 million allocated to extend telemedicine services to seniors. Notably, the bill also appears to dedicate $300 million to ensuring the purchase of vaccinations when such vaccinations become available.

The second phase of emergency federal funding was found in the form of the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” signed into law March 18, 2020. The Families First Act was primarily aimed at addressing issues such as unemployment benefits and paid sick leave. Specifically, the Families First Act provides that, for employers with more than 50 employees and less than 500 employees, two weeks of paid sick leave are to be provided if such employees are confronted with the coronavirus, including: medical diagnosis; quarantine due to COVID-19; symptoms from COVID-19; care for another who is quarantined; or care for children due to school or childcare closing due to the coronavirus.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) introduced legislation to improve the latest package to address the Coronavirus pandemic and helped the Senate pass this bipartisan legislation. The third Coronavirus package includes Peters’ legislation to expand unemployment benefits and support small businesses, hospitals and health care professionals.

The bill includes Peters’ Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act, which would create an unemployment compensation program to provide federally funded benefits to people unable to work because of COVID-19. It would expand who is eligible for unemployment to include workers who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits or other workers who would not usually qualify, such as self-employed workers like small business owners, freelance workers, independent contractors, and seasonal workers as well as individuals who’ve recently started or were about to start a new job. Workers could receive benefits for up to 39 weeks.

Click here for more information on Peters' involvement in the coronavirus legislation.

More state funds were approved for coronavirus (COVID-19) response. The Legislature approved $125 million additional General Fund dollars for coronavirus response with $50 million specifically set aside to expand health care capacity before recessing until March 25 and scaling back session days to just one day per week through mid-April. With COVID-19 impacting governments, schools, businesses and the public, the effects are crippling Michigan as well as the entire country. Some actions taken by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to curb the spread of COVID-19 include: Healthcare workers, police, sanitation workers, correctional officers, postal workers and other key governmental employees will be able to drop their kids off at emergency, unlicensed day care operations from now until April 15. Employers and schools will be allowed to maintain a disaster relief child care center without a state license for those people working that is defined as “essential” jobs. The entire U.S.-Canada border will be closed to non-essential traffic and so willl the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Some Amtrak routes affecting Michigan are being modified. The Governor has requested the U.S. Small Business Association issue an Economic Injury Disaster declaration for the state and is in talks with Michigan companies about producing medical and other items needed for the coronavirus pandemic. She extended weight and other delivery-related restrictions for vehicles carrying essential supplies to mitigate the spread of the virus until April 13 at 11:59 p.m.

For more information on COVID-19 legislation and other recent legislation, please click here for the March 2020 Karoub Report.

The Department of Insurance and Financial Services is rolling out a new website and phone access to live personnel to Capital Building Lansing Croppedanswer questions about the new no-fault auto insurance reforms that take effect July 1, 2020. Vaping would be treated like a tobacco product under legislation (SB 781) introduced in the Senate. It is part of a six-bill bipartisan package of legislation that requires a license to sell vaping products, creates marketing restrictions, age verification, and changes the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. Democrats have proposed a package of bills (HBs 4386, and 5452 through 5456) that would increase financial and criminal penalties for companies that poison the air, water, and land while incentivizing corporate leaders to behave more responsively, according to a press release. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law SB 340 which allows people to fill their prescriptions at “remote pharmacies” staffed by a pharmacist available through a live video feed. A recent poll shows that a 60% majority of Michigan voters support moving to a vote-by-mail election system, with 32% opposed.

Click here for more on these issues and other legislative news in the February 2020 Karoub Report.

In an unusually short State of the State address before a joint session of Legislature, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a $3.5 billion borrowing plan to ‘fix the damn roads,’ and bypass the Republican-led Michigan Legislature. Her Plan B, which does not require legislative approval, adds or expands 122 road projects. It will nearly double the Capital Building Lansing Croppedamount of money to fix roads over the next five years. Gov. Whitmer called it a “fiscally responsible plan” with “no tax increase.” However, as she was preparing to announce the new plan, the Republican-controlled Senate passed a seven-bill transportation package (SB 517) on Jan. 28 that requires the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) work with an outside consulting firm to study the possibility of bringing toll roads to Michigan. In her address, Gov. Whitmer urged the Legislature to enshrine many of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions into state law to protect Michiganders if the federal government chooses to repeal the ACA. The protections would prohibit insurance companies from denying people due to pre-existing conditions, charging women more than men for the same plan, charging sick patients more than healthy patients, and cancelling coverage when an individual gets sick. The Governor also intends to expand Pre-K for kids who need it most by providing additional funding to the Great Start Readiness Program. Gov. Whitmer announced she's also directed the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to expand the right to overtime pay to thousands of Michigan workers. Currently, only workers making $35,000 or less have overtime rights.

Click here for more information in the Karoub State of the State Special Report.

Since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 45-cent-per-gallon fuel tax increase to fix Michigan’s roads failed to get support last year, she said she will now shift to smaller steps…describing that as “triage” for the roads. Based on suspected Capital Building Lansing Croppedfalsification of records, Colonel Joseph Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police (MSP), announced the department is investigating potential fraud committed by contract employees of Intoximeter and is moving to pull 203 breathalyzer instruments from the field. The State of Michigan has filed suit in Washtenaw County against 17 different entities as a way to cover the cost of environmental and public damages caused by toxic PFAS. Gov. Whitmer is set to deliver the annual State of the State address before a joint session of the Legislature the evening of Jan. 29, 2020. The State of Michigan will spend the $17.5 million in federal grant money to distribute Narcan to high-risk areas, for medication to treat opioid addiction in emergency rooms and jails, for replacement programs, and for mobile care units. More charges are expected, some as early as this month, from the Attorney General’s office’s investigation into alleged sexual abuse by clergy at the state’s seven dioceses, according to Attorney General Dana Nessel. Beginning May 1, the public can bring cellphones into Michigan courtrooms based on a recent rule change by the Michigan Supreme Court amending a current rule that allowed chief judges at the local level to set their own cellphone policies.

For more information on these issues and other legislative news, please click here for the January 2020 Karoub Report.

On their last session day of the year before the holidays, the House and Senate sent a 10-bill package of Internet and sports betting legislation to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is expected to sign them into law. The House and Senate also passed and sent to the Governor a deal between Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Whitmer for the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. In addition to the $573.5 million in restored spending in two supplemental bills (SBs 152 and 154) Gov. Whitmer agreed to give the Legislature a 30-day heads up if the state Administrative Board attempts to move money around with departments (HB 5176). This notice gives the Legislature the ability to act pre-emptively. The Secretary of State is replacing 93 old kiosks with new user-friendly self-service stations and adding 57 more for a total of 150. New stations will be located in grocery stores, including Kroger and Meijer, where many customers already do business. Customers will pay a technology fee of $3.95 for every vehicle renewed at a self-service station. Gov. Whitmer is urging the Legislature to pass legislation to pause the implementation of Michigan Medicaid work requirements until the federal courts determine if they are legal. But Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey told the press, “Nope, not necessary.” Cameras could be added to school bus stop-arms through HB 5041, which would allow for school buses to photograph or video the license plate numbers of cars that pass illegally while students are loading or unloading. Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist has signed into law SB 174, requiring producers to make sure all Michigan egg-laying hens are in cage-free systems. The law takes effect in December 2024.

For more information on these and other legislative issues, please click here for the December 2019 Karoub Report.

While lawmakers take their annual Thanksgiving/hunting break until Dec. 3, the supplemental budget will remain unresolved. Depending on the dollars Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed when she signed the FY 2020 budget, certain groups are beginning to seriously feel the pinch. Under legislation recently signed into law by Gov. Whitmer, Michigan’s 17-year-olds would no longer be automatically charged and treated as adults for any criminal offense under the 18 “Raise the Age” bills. If legislation overturning the Natural Resources Commission deer baiting ban reaches the Governor's desk, her press secretary has confirmed the Governor will veto it. The House passed a package of legislation that would legalize sports betting and internet gaming that comes after Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed similar legislation late last year. The Reproductive Health Act, a package of soon-to-be-introduced House Democrat-backed legislation, supported by Gov. Whitmer, would roll back all current restrictions on abortion in Michigan, including the statutory ban ruled inactive by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling in Roe v. Wade. The Attorney General’s office has filed a brief asking the Michigan Supreme Court to instantly bypass the Michigan Court of Appeals and vacate the Court of Claims preliminary injunction stopping the Governor’s ban on flavored vaping products. Gov. Whitmer has signed into law legislation reducing the tax implications of installing solar panels on roofs of homes and businesses. Business owners and homeowners installing solar panels on their roofs will no longer see an immediate property tax bump on their biannual bill. For more information on these and other legislative issues, please click here for the November 2019 Karoub Report.

State Rep. Elissa Slotkin recently wrote a letter to the International Association of Fire Fighters and MAFF expressing her support of legislation which designates all polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. This designation would direct federal resources to prevent the spread of PFAS chemicals and to clean up contaminated sites.

In the letter, Slotkin also discusses her support of two other pieces of legislation benefitting first responders and fire fighters.

Please click here to read Slotkin's letter.

Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens has blocked the state from enforcing the emergency rules on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ban on flavored vaping products. The House unanimously approved legislation that would require many out-of-state websites that facilitate online sales in Michigan to collect and remit the 6 percent sales tax. Gov. Whitmer has ordered that new limits on the amount of PFAS compound that can be in Michigan drinking water be committed to rules. Final adoption could come by April 2020. By Aug. 1, 2021, every Michigan school and daycare center would need to install lead-free drinking water stations per 100 occupants. Republicans have introduced 47 supplemental budget bills in the House and Senate to bring back $256 million of the $947 million of the line-itemed vetoes that include private college grants, charter school funding increase payments to local governments and county road patrol money restoring spending that Gov. Whitmer eliminated with her vetoes. A change in state policy raising the asset limit for three major public assistance programs this winter will allow more Michigan residents to take advantage of those services. By a vote of 107 to 1, the House passed SB 47, which would exclude placement of solar panels on residential real property from assessments of true cash value in regards to property taxes. The measure goes to the Governor's desk and if approved, local assessors will go back to reassess the value of the properties with solar panels. Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) are working with the Voters Not Politicians (VNP) group on term-limit expansion. The conceptual plan, which has not been finalized, would be that lawmakers could serve a combined 20 years in both the House and Senate before they would be term-limited out. Gov. Whitmer says she will pursue administrative rules to expand how many Michigan workers would automatically qualify for overtime pay. For more details on these and other legislative initiatives, please click here for the October 2019 Karoub Report.

The Michigan Legislature passed the K-12 budget and is expected to send Gov. Gretchen Whitmer the rest of the 15 FY 2020 spending bills as soon as Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Gov. Whitmer is expected to exercise her line-item veto power to keep the state government open beyond Oct. 1, but may scratch as many Republican-specific spending priorities as possible to force them back to the negotiating table to find ways to raise more money for road improvements and schools; Local road funding bills were introduced in the House. HBs 4963 – 4973 were referred to the House Transportation Committee. The 11 bills would allow counties to levy, after a vote of the people, their own registration fees or excise fuel taxes for roads; Gov. Whitmer offered three emergency rules banning all flavored vaping products from Michigan shelves. The orders came after Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun described youth vaping as a “public health emergency”; The House and Senate have both passed House Bill 4446, which limits how much a corporation or a union can put toward fundraising events for a political action committee (PAC) and is now headed to the Governor for signature; House and Senate Democrats have introduced a 16-bill package of legislation aimed at cracking down on payroll fraud; Democrats have introduced a 10-bill package to reform the state's unemployment system, which they described as one of the Midwest’s worst unemployment systems in terms of compensation and benefits.The measures would restore the maximum weekly benefit rate indexing formula to 58 percent of the state average weekly wage, while also returning the eligibility period from 20 to the standard 26 weeks.

For more on these and other legislative issues, please click here for the September 2019 Karoub Report.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said there will be no government shutdown because “there is no reason for it” in recent comments he made on WJR. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer suggested a continuation budget be prepared in case budget negotiations go beyond October 1–the start of the next fiscal year, but Leader Shirkey said legislative leaders are making “good progress on the budget and some creative ways to address roads.” Some members of the Michigan Legislature allege Attorney General Dana Nessel is trying to “usurp the lawmaking power of her office,” and they are asking to intervene in Enbridge’s lawsuit against her. Enbridge filed the lawsuit in June seeking to enforce its Line 5 Tunnel agreement with the state. Nessel has filed suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, joining more than a dozen states charging a new rule denying green cards to legal immigrants who use public assistance, or might use it, is unconstitutional. Over a dozen Republicans have filed suit in U.S. District Court’s Western Division against Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in an effort to stop the state’s new citizen redistricting commission and invalidate Proposal 2. A sales tax holiday is propoosed under legislation, HBs 4824 and 4825. If passed and signed into law, parents and teachers wouldn’t pay the 6 percent sales tax on back-to-school pens, glue sticks, clothing and computers under $1,000 on the third Saturday in August. Please click on the August 2019 Karoub Report for more details on these and other legislative issues.