GOP-led Senate pushes Whitmer to change hospital, essential worker orders

By: - April 28, 2020 3:43 pm

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

The Michigan Senate met briefly Tuesday and urged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to allow elective procedures to resume in hospitals and expand the class of essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resolutions could be the start of another week of GOP state lawmakers trying to cap Whitmer’s power. State lawmakers met in Lansing Friday, with the Senate sparring over and passing controversial GOP-led legislation.

The Senate approved Senate Bill 857, which would repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act — one of two state laws Whitmer used as her legal basis for emergency actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Senate Bill 878, which would modify the duration of the governor’s executive orders, proclamations and directives.

Michigan Senate session, April 28, 2020

On Tuesday, the Senate took aim at Whitmer’s executive order directing that all non-essential medical and dental procedures be postponed until after the COVID-19 outbreak that she signed in March. The order was intended to reduce the strain on the health care system and protect people from COVID-19. 

However, Senate Resolution 111, sponsored by Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), aims to allow the procedures to resume.

“Think of all the people who have gone without needed procedures and are confused about whether they can receive crucial chemo treatments, or when they can have knee or hip replacements — and for the doctors who are confused about whether they can provide them care. They are why we are calling on the governor to allow them to get back to work if it is safe for them and if they have the ability and capacity to do so,” said Theis.

Theis added that she was hopeful that Whitmer would rethink the order postponing non-essential procedures.

This resolution is non-binding and won’t have a direct impact on existing laws, but it does send a message and creates a formal request for Whitmer. The measure passed on a voice vote, instead of a traditional roll call vote in which lawmakers’ votes are recorded.

Senate Resolution 112, sponsored by Sen. Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes), also was debated in the Senate.

The non-binding resolution, which also passed on a voice vote, asks Whitmer to adopt expanded federal guidance on who qualifies as an essential worker during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those guidelines were expanded April 17 to include fields like home construction. Whitmer said during a news conference Monday that commercial and residential construction would be among the next businesses to see eased restrictions.

Construction and elective medical procedures can happen safely, with the right procedures in place, and this morning we took action to do that,” said tweeted Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).

Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) didn’t share the same level of enthusiasm.

Today, GOP leadership called us into session to pass a resolution to ask the governor to allow home construction — something she already said yesterday she was going to do,” tweeted Moss.  

The House met Tuesday but didn’t hold votes.

House GOP spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro said that agendas for Wednesday and Thursday sessions are still being determined. Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann didn’t respond about what the Senate may take up this week.

The House could take up the two Senate bills on the governor’s emergency powers. Whitmer also has asked for the Legislature to extend the state of emergency, which is set to expire Thursday.

Last week, lawmakers created a bicameral oversight committee to investigate the state government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.The committee will have subpoena power over documents and other records from state officials during the COVID-19 pandemic. That panel is slated to meet Wednesday morning.

During Friday’s session, Sen. Dale Zorn (R-Ida) wore a protective face mask worn that appeared to have a Confederate flag design, which has received national media attention. 

Zorn apologized, but Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who presides over the Senate and heads a state panel on racial disparities in COVID-19, said he believes that the senator should be censured. McCann has not responded to the Advance’s inquiry if the Senate plans to take action.

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Madeline Ciak
Madeline Ciak

Madeline Ciak is a former Michigan Advance reporter. She’s a University of Michigan-Flint graduate and previously worked as a digital media manager at NBC25/FOX66 in Flint and a weekend producer at ABC12.