Advance Notice: Briefs

Gov. signs bipartisan business liability bills amid COVID-19 crisis 

By: - October 23, 2020 9:48 am

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this week signed bipartisan compromise legislation that shields many businesses from liability on COVID-19 — a big priority for business groups like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce — and also enshrines some worker protections into law.

“No Michigander should have to worry about going into work when they’re sick, especially during a global pandemic,” said Whitmer, a Democrat. “These bipartisan bills ensure crucial protections for our workers and businesses who do their part to protect our families and frontline workers from the spread of COVID-19.” 

Whitmer added that she looks “forward to more collaboration with the Legislature where we can find common ground.

The legislation, which was approved during a marathon session, came after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 2 that the 1945 emergency powers law Whitmer used for her emergency COVID-19 orders was unconstitutional.

The bills require employers to allow workers who are exposed to COVID-19 or exhibit the symptoms of coronavirus to stay home, and prohibit retaliation against employees for staying home when sick or exposed to the virus. It also provides a minimum damages award of $5,000 for violations. Awards may be higher than that in the event of more serious conduct or injuries. 

State rolls out free tuition program for essential workers

House Bill 6030, sponsored by state Rep. Tom Albert (R-Lowell), says that when a business complies with all relevant COVID-19 related statutes, orders and rules issued by federal, state, and local authorities, they cannot be held liable for a person becoming sick at the business. 

House Bill 6031, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming), and House Bill 6032, sponsored by Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt), make clear that when an employer complies with all relevant COVID-19 related statutes, orders and rules issued by federal, state and local authorities, they cannot be held liable under the Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Act (MIOSHA) for a worker becoming sick at work. 

Whitmer also signed other bills into law. 

House Bills 4459 and 4460, sponsored by Rep. Frank Liberati (R-Allen Park), and House Bill 4991, sponsored by Rep. Roger Hauck (R-Beal City), limits the ability of an out-of-network provider to bill a patient directly for certain emergency costs, rather the provider and the insurer will now settle the disputed charge. The legislation places Michigan among the states leading the charge for consumer protection when it comes to surprise medical billing.  

House Bill 6192, sponsored by Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann), provides extensions for the validity of certain permits, licenses, and registrations issued by the Secretary of State. Many of these permits were extended once already to Sept. 30. This second extension makes many permits, licenses, and registrations valid until Dec.11.  

Senate Bill 1094, sponsored by Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.), requires the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to evaluate the operation, efficacy, clinical outcomes, and performance of nursing homes throughout the state during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.