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Deal Struck On Biz COVID-19 Liability

October 20, 2020

Expanded unemployment benefits and COVID-19 liability protections for businesses passed out of the House and Senate early Wednesday morning as part of a deal with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) announced at 12:29 a.m. that a deal had been reached that did not include the need of a legislative link that would have sunk all of the bills if one had been vetoed. 
 
“Thank you @GovWhitmer and @SenMikeShirkey for your work and bipartisan cooperation,” tweeted Chatfield. “Great news for working families and small businesses.” 
 
With the Michigan Supreme Court invalidating Monday every COVID-19 related executive order the Governor had issued since April 30, the Legislature returned Tuesday for a rare, election-year session to put into law some of the Governor’s former EOs. 
 
Top on the list was continuing unemployment benefits for an expanded 26 weeks and continuing protections for employees quarantining due to COVID-19.  
 
The Republican-led Legislature, however, also wanted COVID-19 liability protections for businesses, but was concerned the Governor would veto them, as she had done with prior legislation, if they weren’t tie-barred to the unemployment benefits. 
 
The Governor’s staff and the legislative staff worked throughout the day, at the urging of her business community allies, to find language in the immunity bill that the trial lawyers could at least stomach. 
 
Most legislative Democrats ended up being a “no” vote on the flagship bills, HB 6030 and HB 6031, but Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) and Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) joined the chamber’s Republicans in supporting the measure.  
 
Rep. Tom Albert’s  HB 6030 and Rep. Tommy Brann’s HB 6031 read that as long as a business has been in compliance with all federal, state and local laws and rules, it cannot be held liable if someone believes he or she contracted COVID-19 at the worksite. 
 
Originally, the bill said the business would be protected from legal action unless it was operating “defective” products and there was a “substantial likelihood” that the defect would cause injury. The word “substantial” was a problem for the Governor’s office and was taken out. 
 
Also, a sunset on employee protections was lifted. 
 
Nobody had a problem with Rep. Graham Filler’s HB 6032, which prevents an employer from firing someone for staying home out of concerns they have COVID-19. That passed unanimously.

 
The expanded unemployment benefits were in Sen. Ken Horn’s (R-Frankenmuth) SB 0886. The bill makes sure those with COVID-19 or those caring for a loved one with COVID-19 are able to receive the expanded 26 weeks of unemployment as opposed to the standard 20. 
 
The bill also covers workers who need to quarantine due to being exposed to someone who had tested positive. The H-6 Substitute ended up being about 20 pages larger because of some added sections to bring the law into compliance with federal statutes. 
 
Other bills sent to the Governor early Wednesday morning include: 
 
– SB 0911, sponsored by Horn, makes it easier for retirees of the Unemployment Insurance Agency and MIOSHA to return back to work until Dec. 31 without it affecting their retirement benefits. The House passed the bill unanimously. 
 
– SB 1094, sponsored by Sen. Pete Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.), requires COVID-19 regional hubs to provide a detailed legislative report about their operations plans and protocols for patients. The bill also requires monthly reports on COVID-19 cases and deaths from nursing home residents and staff. The House passed the bill unanimously. 
 
– SB 1108, sponsored by Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), allows local governments to meet remotely until Jan. 1 and makes official any action taken remotely since the pandemic began. In committee, the House Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to expand this ability until March 31. 
 
The bill passed the House, 85-18, with a mixture of opposition from conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain), like his Senate counterpart last week, is concerned that local governments will abuse the privilege to avoid having to confront residents in person. 
 
“I’m not worried about the backroom deal. I’m worried about the bedroom, bathroom and basement deals,” he said. “What’s going on on the other side of that camera?” 
 
The Senate concurred in the House changes, most of which were technical, 36-1, before sending it off for enrollment. 
 
– HB 6159, sponsored by Rep. Roger Hauck (R-Mt. Pleasant), which gives hospitals, health care facilities and providers some immunity in COVID-19 cases, passed on a mostly partisan 64-37 vote. 
 
– HB 6192, sponsored by Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann), gives a person 10 days after receiving a note from the Friend of the Court that they’re up to date on their child support payments to take it to the Secretary of State to get their driver license reinstated. 
 
Passing the House for the first time were: 
 
– HB 5756 and HB 5757, sponsored by Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden), waive any late fees that drivers would have incurred for not getting their licenses or vehicle tabs renewed on time due to COVID-19 after March 20. Secretary of State branch offices were closed for many weeks due to the pandemic and are slowly trying to catch up on the backlog through appointments. 
 
Those bills moved out of the House Ways and Means and House Transportation committees Tuesday morning and the full House early Wednesday morning. 
 
– HB 6137, a Rep. Leslie Love (D-Detroit) bill, includes some reporting requirements regarding nursing homes that had previously been in other legislation. As a result, the Legislature will be receiving retroactive data they’ve been seeking for some time. 
 
– HB 6293, a Filler bill, allows a pharmacist, nurse or physician’s assistant to test someone for COVID-19 as long as they’re properly registered in their respective field. 
 
– HB 6294, HB 6295, HB 6296 and HB 6297, Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) bills, allow wills, deeds and other legal documents to be signed and witnessed electronically through the end of 2020. The bills moved out of the House Government Operations Committee on Tuesday morning and the full House early Wednesday morning. 
 
Cadillac attorney Nathan Pioarski told the committee that thousands of documents, “maybe tens of thousands of documents,” were signed by Michigan residents during the pandemic, relying on the Governor’s executive orders, that may not be valid now in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

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