Lasinski on the April 30, 2020 House Session

Friday, May 15, 2020

For anyone that follows me, my “How I Voted” posts are a regular update on what our legislature takes up and votes on every week. I explain what each bill and resolution does and share how I voted.

On Thursday, April 30 we voted on House Bill 5709, Senate Bill 858 and House Resolution 250.

I voted “NO” on both. Here’s why:

On April 30, we were NOT called to Lansing to start working on our severely affected state budget, to help our state acquire PPE for our first responders and frontline workers, to draft workplace requirements to make sure that when workers go back to work they and the people they serve are safe, to make fixes to our unemployment system and make sure people are paid, or to work with our Governor, and other Midwestern states, to chart a path forward.

We were NOT called to Lansing to vote on the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. This is an important distinction, because the governor’s emergency powers and the “Stay Home” order are not the same issue.

We were called to Lansing because of the worst impulses of political gamesmanship and posturing.

House Bill 5709 revises the penalties in our state’s two emergency management laws. This bill would replace the current misdemeanor criminal penalty for violating an emergency order with a “civil infraction” provision and specify fines of up to $100 for individuals, and up to $500 for businesses or other entities. This bill was drafted with an error and I will reconsider it if it comes back with a correction from the senate.

Senate Bill 858 amends the 1976 “Emergency Management Act (EMA),” one of two state laws that grant emergency powers to a governor. The EMA limits these powers to 28 days unless they are extended by the legislature, which on April 30th the legislature did not hold a vote to extend. The SB 858 does two things. It essentially “writes into” the EMA most of the current COVID-19 pandemic executive orders that have been imposed using the EMA’s authority, but gives those orders different end dates.

Senate Bill 858 extended the end date of some executive orders 6 months, a few to one year and at least one until 2022. This dramatically wrote into law extended provisions that would require the full legislative process to shorten, unless as happened this week, the majority party circumvented the entire public input process and committee process to rush through legislation.

SB 858 would revise the orders that guide business re-openings to give them arbitrary end dates, and ones easing state regulations (including those on medical care providers and facilities) are extended for a longer time. Under this bill, bars and restaurants would be able to reopen on May 16. It would allow “social distancing” protocols for businesses and public accommodations that would be general and flexible.

There were no provisions in SB 858 to recognize decreases or increases in the infection and death rates to alter any provisions of the law.

House Resolution 250 allows the Speaker of the House to sue the Governor for her use of emergency powers under our two state emergency management laws.

To be clear, should the legal challenge to the emergency management laws succeed, our state would “go back” to how we were before the first state of emergency was declared. Bars, theaters, restaurants, public accommodations, concert venues, public buildings, all places of business, etc. would be free to resume operation as normal without any consideration of infection or death rates.

This would also remove the emergency extensions of our state unemployment, protections that prevent landlords from evicting tenants, protections for workers (both medical protections and to protect them from being fired by their employers should they become sick or refuse to work in unsafe conditions), protections for our frontline workers and first responders, it would prevent our Governor from coordinating with other states and the federal government to reopen our state and to get additional help for small businesses, workers and our healthcare system.

Our state would not be able to react quickly or decisively in addressing the numerous threats and issues that the COVID-19 pandemic present. It would require the legislature, that cannot meet remotely, to meet in Lansing and either reapprove the state of emergency, or address all of these issues through individual legislation.

All of these political games are simply slowing down the re-opening process which has already begun. There was and still is no arbitrary date when we can resume life as “normal”. The data still must drive our decisions. And we must be nimble during this state of emergency to reopen safely.