June 7, 2020
It was a slow month in Michigan — pandemic, economic paralysis, widespread civil unrest, and a 500-year flood in the Midland area.
On May 25 George Floyd, a 46-year old African-American man, was killed while being restrained by a white police officer who used his knee to pin Mr. Floyd by the neck to the ground for nearly nine minutes until he died. The death was caught on bystander videos, which circulated widely on social media and broadcast news. Autopsies found Floyd’s death to be a homicide. All four officers were fired and criminal charges brought against them.
Floyd’s death triggered hundreds of thousands to protest across the world about police brutality, lack of police accountability, and racial injustice. In Michigan, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Flint, Petoskey, Port Huron, Bad Axe, Muskegon, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Cheboygan, Midland, Plymouth, Inkster, Midland, Livonia, Owosso, and other cities large and small saw protest marches and events. Many were totally peaceful and some resulted in property damage and looting, usually in the evening hours after peaceful protesters had departed.
Governor Whitmer and Lt. Governor Gilchrist joined a daytime peaceful march in Detroit. The Michigan Sheriffs’ Association issued a statement condemning the actions leading to the death of George Floyd. Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard in a Facebook post called the actions of the four officers in the Floyd case deplorable. President Donald Trump called demonstrators “terrorists,” and told governors in a phone call to “dominate them,” The New York Times reported.
The Michigan Senate on June 4 passed unanimously SB 945 that would require law enforcement officers to undergo training on implicit bias, de-escalation techniques and mental health screenings. Continuing education would also be required. The Governor has indicated support for the bill.
As of this writing there have been 58,749 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Michigan (with 38,099 considered to be recovered) and 5,595 COVID-19 deaths according to the state’s tracking system at www.michigan.gov/coronavirus. Nationally Michigan is now fifth overall in deaths and ninth in cases. Testing numbers continued to trend positive with 3.2 percent of nearly 13,000 tests on June 4 coming back positive. The Governor wants to have 450,000 tests a month to ensure any new outbreaks are identified and traced, but Michigan is so far falling short of that goal. There are very few new cases emerging from the 32 counties in northern Michigan opened before Memorial Day, which is why the Governor recently moved that area from phase 4 into phase 5 of her 6 phase system for relaxing containment methods. The rest of the state remains in phase 4 for now.
Re-opening — Ten weeks after Governor Whitmer imposed the strictest limitations in the nation to combat the spread of COVID-19, she recently moved to lift some of the most significant restrictions, lifting a ban on travel, allowing offices, restaurants, bars and retailers to reopen to at least partial in-person business. Indoor gathering limits rose from 10 to 50 people and outdoor gatherings from 100 to 250 people. On June 15 retailers selling products subject to the state’s bottle return law were required to begin processing bottle returns. Residents began getting legal haircuts, tattoos or massages. The COVID-19 Return to School Advisory Council, created through Executive Order 2020-88, was appointed on June 3. It is intended to identify some of the issues schools could face in the fall related to the current pandemic and to devise solutions. Without school and child care opening, it will be difficult for employees to return to work and get the economy going again.
Whitmer said her goal is to move the entire state to Phase 5 by July 4 if the data supports it. The governor did warn it would be “a while” before businesses like retail, restaurants, movie theaters and bars will be able to operate without capacity restrictions. And she warned sports and concert fans not to expect full attendance at team venues until we have a vaccine.
Nursing homes — Nearly one-quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in Michigan involve cases from nursing homes, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported in preliminary data released on May 27 to a Senate committee. MDHHS Director Robert Gordon reported that, with 91 percent of facilities reporting, 4,949 cases of COVID-19 have been in nursing facility residents across the state and, preliminarily, 1,216 deaths. About 77 percent of nursing home-related deaths are from three counties: Macomb, Oakland and Wayne. That is in line with the percentage of all deaths coming from those three counties.
The Governor created great concern with two Executive Orders requiring nursing homes with less than 80 percent capacity to set aside space for COVID-19 infected residents. After two legislative hearings on the issue, a subsequent order includes provisions to allow the readmission of nursing home residents only if the facility is capable of handing the resident.
Health Care Association of Michigan President Melissa Samuel has stated that nursing facilities were a low priority at the onset of the pandemic on the state and federal level for personal protection equipment and testing. “We now know that a robust response ensuring universal testing of nursing facility residents and staff, along with prioritizing these facilities in the allocation of PPE, are essential to protecting this vulnerable population.”
Unemployment — In Michigan, 1.8 million people have filed for jobless benefits since COVID-19 prompted business shutdowns and a statewide stay-at-home order in mid-March. By the end of June, Michigan is expected to lose 23.5 percent of payroll jobs, according to University of Michigan economists. The unemployment rates in 14 of the 17 metropolitan statistical areas in Michigan were above 20 percent in April. Eighty of Michigan’s 83 counties in April recorded their highest unemployment rate since 1990.
Legal challenges — Over a dozen challenges to the Governor’s Executive Orders have been filed. The most celebrated if not notorious is that of Karl Manke, the 77-year old Owosso barber who re-opened his shop on May 4 saying he had been closed six weeks and had bills to pay. He has had his barber’s license suspended but continues his barbering and legal challenge. On June 5 the Michigan Supreme Court vacated a Court of Appeals ruling directing a lower court to order him to cease operations. A hearing on the merits of the case has not yet been heard during all the preliminary legal maneuvers.
The Republican-led Legislature has filed a lawsuit challenging the Governor’s authority during a state of emergency to extend an Executive Order past 28 days without Legislative approval (Michigan House v. Whitmer (COC Case No. 20-000079-MZ)). On May 21, the Michigan Court of Claims upheld the Governor’s authority to issue emergency orders under the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act. However, the court also ruled the governor lacked the authority to declare a new 28-day declaration under the Emergency Management Act without legislative approval. The Legislature requested an emergency by-pass of the Court of Appeals to the Michigan Supreme Court, which was denied by the high court on June 4. The case awaits consideration by the Court of Appeals.
In addition to the backlog and overwhelmed unemployment claims system, the state and unemployed workers now have to contend with evidence that 340,000 UIA accounts have been flagged for potential fraudulent claims. Michigan Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio stated that it appears third-party data from past large-scale personal information data breaches in recent years is being used to file imposter claims in Michigan and elsewhere. About 600 staff are reviewing UIA claims to verify the identity of claimants and another 200 will soon be added. Donofrio said a third-party forensic accounting firm is being hired to review the department’s work and to assist in identifying fraudulent activity that can be turned over to law enforcement. On June 5, the Department of Attorney General announced it will lead a newly created unemployment insurance fraud task force to combat those who are abusing the system.
CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION
The Civil Service Commission recently announced proposed changes of its Rules to end service fees by payroll deduction and require annual worker reauthorization for deduction of dues and fees. The announcement brought an immediate rebuke from Governor Whitmer who said it would weaken collective bargaining rights for state employees who have been working on the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic.
VOTING AND ELECTIONS
Redistricting — Over 6,200 people have applied for Michigan’s Independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission by the deadline of June 1. Next the Secretary of State will process the final applications and give them to Rehmann LLC, an independent accounting firm tasked with drawing 200 semi-finalists. The group of 200 applications will be posted online and delivered to legislative leaders who have the ability to strike up to 20 applications from the list per the Michigan Constitution. Final selection of commissioners will take place in August. The commission will be tasked with redrawing Michigan’s legislative and congressional district maps in 2021.
Voting at home — Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson worked with city and township clerks to make sure all 7.7 million Michigan voters received an application for an absentee ballot. If you misplaced yours, you can find another at www.michigan.gov/vote or call your local clerk. Meanwhile the Michigan League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State claiming that not all processes have been updated to comply with the 2018 constitutional amendments passed by voters. Particularly, the new law requires that voters have a right to submit their ballots by mail on or before election day, and not the past policy of “received by election day.” Plaintiffs also assert that the law requires clerks to immediately process absentee ballot requests and have local clerks pay for postage for returning absentee ballots. Another lawsuit by Priorities USA alleges similar voting restrictions and postal service problems. Additionally, the lawsuit wants the state to allow voters to designate a third party to assist in collecting and submitting their sealed absentee ballots and ensure that the ballots are counted if eligible.
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