READ: Letters From Christine Greig & Lee Chatfield

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Some state lawmakers are refusing to go to Lansing on Tuesday, April 7, amid the coronavirus crisis. The following letters concern that issue.

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LETTER FROM HOUSE MINORITY LEADER

The Honorable Lee ChatfieldSpeaker of the House of Representatives162 Michigan State Capitol BuildingLansing, MI 48933

"Dear Mr. Speaker:

I am writing to express my grave concerns about the prospect of the House returning to legislative sessionon April 7 without adequate precautions in place to protect the health and safety of Members, staff, and the public and for the purpose, if press reports are to be believed, of acting on a measure that is both insufficient to address the present public health crisis and legally dubious.

On March 13, I wrote to you regarding the necessity of limiting legislative session to only those matters that relate directly to Michigan’s response to this deadly pandemic and we have spoken about the need to implement social distancing and other precautions to mitigate the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus while conducting legislative business. I was dismayed that the House then proceeded to meet in session for over twelve hours with few, if any, such precautions implemented. This despite the fact that many House Members are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 due to age and preexisting medical conditions. The House must not repeat these mistakes. The pressing need for such precautions is underscored by the tragic death of our colleague, and my friend, State Representative Isaac Robinson. I have requested, at a minimum, that the House adhere to the social distancing guidelines established by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, I have requested that the House implement a screening protocol for all Members and staff present for session that includes a symptom check and temperature check.

Finally, I have requested that Members and staff be asked to wear cloth masks or other face coverings while attending session, as recommended by the CDC. As I write today, it remains unclear which, if any, of these precautions you intend to implement for any future session days during the duration of this crisis. Clarity on this matter is essential for Members and staff to evaluate the risk attending legislative session poses to themselves, their families, and their communities.

In addition to the aforementioned concerns over the conduct of session, I was dismayed to read press reports that you intend to ask the House to consider a concurrent resolution that purports to extend Governor Whitmer’s declaration of a state of emergency and state of disaster for only 23 days. To be frank, such an extension is grossly inadequate to the all-important task before us.

The Governor and the public health experts directing Michigan’s response to COVID-19 have determined that an extension of 70 days is necessary and appropriate. As you yourself have said on more than one occasion, the Governor “remains in the best position to make these decisions.” I agree, Mr. Speaker, which is why I am befuddled and troubled that we would choose now to disregard her considered decision in this matter.

To the extent that Executive Order 2020-33 relies in part on the authority of the Emergency Management Act, 1976 PA 390, Governor Whitmer’s declaration of a state of emergency and state of disaster, may remain in effect without legislative action until April 29. As a result, a concurrent resolution “extending” these declarations until April 30 is not an extension at all using any intelligible sense of the word. It is indefensible and unconscionable to expose Members, staff, and the public to the risk of novel coronavirus transmission to take a vote that amounts to little more than political theatre and will certainly require the House to return to approve an actual extension in just three weeks—precisely when public health experts predict the COVID-19 pandemic will be at its peak in Michigan. By approving the 70-day extension requested by the Governor now, we would be providing the Governor, doctors and nurses, and first responders with the tools they need to fight this virus while protecting Members and staff from unnecessary risk.

Finally, I must also note that if you do, in fact, intend to seek approval of a concurrent resolution along the lines described in recent media reporting, you are embarking upon an unprecedented course of action that is inconsistent with the text of the Emergency Management Act and past precedent in the Michigan Legislature. The act provides that the Governor may submit “a request . . . for an extension of the state of disaster [or state of emergency] for a specific number of days.” MCL 30.403. The plain text of the statute strongly suggests that the Legislature is permitted to approve or disapprove the Governor’s request, but not to modify it. Such a reading of the Emergency Management Act is further buttressed by the fact that the act declares that: “The governor is responsible for coping with dangers to this state or the people of this state presented by a disaster or emergency.” Id. Governor Snyder requested that the Legislature extend states of emergency he had declared three times. On each of those three occasions, the Legislature approved Governor Snyder’s requested extension without modification. See 2016 SCR 23; 2016 SCR 28; 2017 HCR 1. Those extensions were for 73, 122, and 56 days, respectively. No attempt to draw factual distinctions between the emergencies at issue in Governor Snyder’s declarations and the present situation justifies disregarding the limitations placed on the Legislature by statute or our past practice.

Mr. Speaker, we have a job to do. That job is to put the necessary precautions in place to protect Members, staff, and the public during legislative session and to approve Governor Whitmer’s request for a 70-dayextension of her emergency and disaster declarations so that Michigan can continue its effort to fight COVID-19 uninterrupted and unimpeded by partisan politics. Michiganders expect and deserve nothing less from their Legislature.

Sincerely,Christine GreigDemocratic Leader

Michigan House of Representatives"

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LETTER IN RESPONSE FROM SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE

April 4, 2020The Honorable Christine GreigHouse Democrat Leader167 Michigan State Capitol BuildingLansing, MI 48933

"Dear Leader Greig:

In light of the rapidly evolving situation surrounding the spread of the coronavirus, the changing directives coming from state officials, and the state of emergency declared by both Governor Whitmer and President Trump, the Michigan House of Representatives will continue to do its job and stand ready to address this pandemic on behalf of the people we represent.

For centuries, Americans have always relied on their elected leaders in times of crisis, and it is our responsibility to live up to that expectation. We are entrusted by the people of this state to serve and to place the needs of others above ourselves. You and I will not abdicate that responsibility now.

You are well aware of how important a role that the Michigan House is currently playing in the response to this disease. We recently gathered together to approve more than $150 million in state funds forhospital equipment, staffing, testing and other mitigation efforts that are incredibly time sensitive as the number of infected residents continues to grow. The House has proposed dozens of revisions toexecutive orders, many of which have been adopted and helped shape the state’s response to this crisis. I have also personally spent countless time discussing and planning the state’s response to the coronavirus with the governor, health officials, hospitals, and the state’s chief medical examiner. No one– Republican or Democrat – should be under the impression that work is now done.

The governor’s executive orders in particular are going to continue to have significant ripple effects on our state and the millions of people who live here. We simply cannot abdicate our responsibility to workwith her on improving that situation and helping the people we represent. Since 1977, there have been thirty-five states of emergencies and fifty-two states of disaster declared by the governor’s office. Intotal, four states of emergencies and six states of disasters have been extended by the Legislature. None of these emergencies or disasters have been extended unilaterally by the governor, reflecting the twenty-eight day limit written into state law.

Executive Order 2020-33 did not restart the twenty-eight day timeframe required by statute and make a legislative extension on April 7th unnecessary. By its own terms, that order is merely an “expansion” ofthe original declaration and thus subject to the same time constraints. Your interpretation results in an obvious absurdity – that any governor could just revise and reissue declarations in perpetuity, renderingthe clear language of the law and the legislative branch meaningless. The idea that the Legislature  cannot determine the length of an extension is also inaccurate, without precedent and contrary to bothstate law and logic.

The governor’s declaration will expire on April 7th, and it is our responsibility to consider an extension. Doing so until May 1st will allow the governor to continue her important work while still giving localresidents hope that they will have a real plan presented to them sooner than the end of June. The people you and I represent deserve answers as to why the state shut down their jobs but can’tadequately provide them with unemployment benefits. They deserve better transparency on the spread of the illness and how far testing has progressed. And they deserve to know what the state’s plan is forgetting them back to work and getting life back to normal. Those questions demand real, tangible answers before we simply sign away their jobs, their freedoms and their way of life until the middle of the summer. The Michigan House has been asking those questions, and we will continue to raise them until the people of Michigan have peace of mind.

You have also been made aware of the screening procedures in place for Tuesday. As you already know, the House has a comprehensive plan in place that mirrors guidelines established by the MichiganDepartment of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control, including symptom and temperature checks. Every possible measure will be taken to minimize the risk of exposure to legislatorsand staff as they do what millions of other Michigan residents are doing every day and show up to perform an essential service. Of course, any elected official who feels unsafe will need to do what they feel is best, and directions will be sent out shortly informing members who have had either symptoms or contact with possible COVID19-positive residents to stay home.But the people of Michigan rightly expect us to do at least as muchas they are doing in these difficult times. Millions of Michiganders who are unaffected are showing up for work every day to keep our state moving. We’ve seen nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters, grocery store workers and many more answer the call to serve throughout these tumultuous times. Idon’t intend to leave them hanging. They haven’t put the state on hold, and we are not going to put their immediate needs on ice.

Leading by example also includes stepping up and taking action in challenging times. That is the job we asked for and the responsibility we now have to fulfill. The right thing for all of us to do is to continue leading and helping the people of this state get through this difficult time with as many answers, resources and solutions as we can. I ask you to join us next week as we continue that important work.

Sincerely,Lee ChatfieldSpeaker of the HouseMichigan House of Representatives"