The Legislature is meeting amid coronavirus. Some lawmakers are worried.
Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas
Updated, 7:41 p.m., 3/16/20
Michigan is under a state of emergency due to the spread of COVID-19. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is banning events of more than 50 people and she already shuttered all K-12 schools. Bars and restaurants are restricted to take-out only. Gyms, movie theaters, recreation centers, casinos and other venues are closed.
But both the Michigan House and Senate are scheduled to be in session on Tuesday, as there’s an exemption in the statewide ban on large gatherings for the Legislature to meet.* Leaders announced they would last week, overriding the concerns of some lawmakers. Both state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) said last week they were not planning to cancel sessions, but they did impose some changes to accommodate staff with work-at-home options and to limit travel.
Legislative bodies in at least 11 states have suspended sessions, per the National Conference of State Legislatures, including Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska and Vermont.
Senate GOP spokeswoman Amber McCann said in an email Monday to reporters that sessions are planned for Tuesday and Wednesday and invited reporters to stream it online.
“We plan to limit staff attendance and work through our limited agenda, quickly,” she said.
McCann added that Shirkey will not be talking with reporters after sessions, in a departure, and “instead we will rely on communicating relevant information via releases and emails.”
House GOP spokesman Gideon D’Assandro told the Advance that there are “no major changes — but we’re planning for [Tuesday] at least and then we’ll see how much there is left to do and ready to go once tomorrow is done.”
Some Democrats are not thrilled, especially with social distancing recommendations for people to stay 6 feet apart. On Thursday, state Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt) noted on Twitter, “I think 26 of our 109 sitting members are 60 or older, putting a large percentage of the House at greater risk of contracting COVID 19. Who knows how many might have underlying conditions that also increases their risk.”
And Monday, Hope said the Legislature should meet to take up coronavirus legislation, which may happen. But if not, she said they’re “needlessly gathering … to share germs and then take them to literally every part of the state.”
So far: not #mileg If we’re taking up #COVID19 related legislation or other genuinely time-sensitive issues, let’s have session this week. If not, we’re needlessly gathering in a group of 200 (with staff) to share germs and then take them to literally every part of the state.
— Kara Hope (@KaraHope7) March 16, 2020
State Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) wrote on Twitter: “For the safety of my staff and all of my constituents, I’ll be attending Senate session solo (calling my chief of staff in via videoconference if needed) and have suspended all in-person meetings and events. #mileg. It’s crucial we continue work to pass timely legislation to respond to the #covid19 pandemic, but there’s a unique risk of all of us traveling from all over the state then returning home to our districts. Young people can be unknowing carriers.”
State Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham) tweeted, “Our office is set up to work remotely. My staff will still be answering calls and emails, but doing so from home. I’ll also be in attendance tomorrow at session. We all need to do our part to #FlattentheCurve.”
Advance reporter Laina G. Stebbins contributed.
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