Whitmer’s legislative priorities: Unemployment, remote meetings

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — With the Michigan Legislature expected to be back at work within days, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she knows where it should start.

“I’m concerned about unemployment and I’m concerned about ensuring that our local municipalities and school boards have the ability to meet remotely. Those are two changes in the law that really need to be made very quickly,” she told News 8 Wednesday morning. “We’ve got to get these two pieces done immediately.”

On Tuesday, Republicans who control the Legislature said they were calling lawmakers back to Lansing to handle coronavirus-related bills. The Senate resumes session Thursday and the House is supposed to be back Oct. 13.

“I’m pleased that they are coming back,” Whitmer said. “They could have taken action throughout the last six months, but they didn’t.”

The Legislature did pass some coronavirus-related bills since the start of the outbreak in March, notably one on kids returning to school, which had Whitmer on board, and on other issues like nursing home virus isolation protocols and medical lawsuit immunity that Whitmer vetoed. Lawmakers have not, however, codified her executive orders that expanded access to unemployment benefits or allowed for more remote meetings.

The Democratic governor and Republican-led Legislature have had a strained relationship for some time and the legal battle over Whitmer’s unilateral actions in response to the coronavirus didn’t improve anything. On Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court struck down those actions, ruling the 1945 law on which they were based was unconstitutional.

In response, Whitmer’s Department of Health and Human Services chief on Monday issued an epidemic order based on a separate law requiring masks to be worn in public and limiting capacity in public places, among other things.

“There’s not a lot of difference, to be honest,” Whitmer said of her executive orders and the epidemic order. “(The epidemic orders) are very similar to what we did as executive orders. … These are just based on the best science and the best practices so we can keep people safe.”

Her comments came while in Battle Creek at a campaign event for Democratic state House candidates. She had another such event in Kalamazoo later in the day.