The Michigan Legislature passed more than a dozen bills related to the COVID-19 pandemic during a marathon session that ran past 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, including to extend unemployment benefits, provide liability protections to businesses and implement task force recommendations on nursing homes.
Senate Bill 886, which extends unemployment benefit eligibility from 20 weeks to 26 weeks through the end of the year, passed unanimously in the state House of Representatives and Senate and now goes to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for approval.
Unemployment benefits had previously been extended through an executive order, but a legislative remedy was needed after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 2 that the 1945 emergency powers law from which Whitmer’s orders drew their authority was unconstitutional.
A bill to extend the validity of driver’s licenses and state IDs that have expired since March 1 through Dec. 11 passed unanimously in both chambers.
Legislation allowing public bodies, like local governments, to conduct meetings remotely through the end of 2020 under any circumstances and for the entirety of 2021 for a medical reason, a state of emergency or because of military duty passed the House 85-18 and the Senate 36-1.
Those issues had also previously been addressed by executive orders.
Senate Bill 1094, which requires MDHHS to create dedicated care and recovery centers within nursing homes to house COVID-19 positive patients, passed the House unanimously and the Senate 36-1.
The legislation follows a recommendation from the Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force and mirrors a move the governor made through an executive order in September.
A second bill, House Bill 6137, would require nursing homes to report data, including the number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and recoveries. It passed the House unanimously and has not yet been taken up in the Senate.
Another package of bills would protect businesses from some legal claims related to COVID-19 exposure as long as they had followed federal, state and local regulations.
The package includes HB 6030, which the Senate passed 23-14 and the House passed 86-15; HB 6031, which the Senate passed 23-14 and the House passed 85-16; HB 6032, which passed both chambers unanimously; and HB 6101, which the Senate passed 29-8 and the House passed 88-13.
Various health restrictions that were part of Whitmer’s orders – such as mandating the use of face masks in public spaces and during organized sports, restricting the capacity of businesses and limiting the size of gatherings – were reinstated last week through separate emergency orders signed by Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon.
Those orders are in effect until Oct. 30, but Whitmer has said they can and will be extended as necessary. The law giving him the authority to sign the orders was not at issue in the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, warned Tuesday that there were signs of a second wave of COVID-19 infections in Michigan.
Michigan currently reports having 89 daily cases per million people, an increase from 81.6 daily cases per million people at the same point last week.
“Michiganders did a great job of bringing our cases down after a surge in the spring,” Khaldun said. “Yet as the colder months and flu season have arrived, we now see a concerning jump in our cases – a trend we can reverse if we all take this seriously and follow best practices to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
The health department said that the increase in cases, paired with more gatherings taking place indoors rather than outdoors due to the cooler weather, increases the risk of community spread of the virus.
Health officials have previously warned that a convergence of flu season with a second wave of COVID-19 infections could overwhelm the hospital systems.
Michigan set a new daily record for reported cases of COVID-19 in the state Thursday, adding 2,030 cases and 32 deaths.
Some of the cases reported Thursday were from Wednesday due to a processing slowdown, but the state’s seven-day average of new cases is at its highest point since April.
Michigan had 141,091 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Thursday, and 6,973 people have died from the virus.
Of the confirmed cases, 4,753 are in Genesee County, and 294 people in the county have died from the virus.