Senate asks Whitmer to ease more COVID-19 restrictions

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Senate formally urged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to expand the number of people who can go to work during the COVID-19 pandemic and to allow elective procedures in hospitals.

With lawmakers wearing masks for protection, the Republican-controlled Senate met briefly Tuesday morning and voted on two resolutions that made recommendations for Whitmer. The Democratic governor has asked the Legislature to extend her emergency declaration by 28 days. The current declaration is set to expire Friday.

Many Republicans in the majorities in the Senate and House think 28 days is too long. They also want to see Whitmer either give up some of her unilateral powers during the emergency or make other moves to ease restrictions that have been in place for longer than a month to stem the spread of COVID-19.

A group of about 30 protesters wait outside the Michigan Capitol after the Senate adjourned on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The protesters were demonstrating against restrictions aimed to stem the spread of COVID-19.

"Businesses have shown that they can maintain day-to-day operations with enhanced safety protocols," argued Sen. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, in a speech on the Senate floor.

The action Tuesday came as about 30 protesters gathered outside the Capitol, calling on lawmakers and Whitmer to ease restrictions on Michigan residents.

As senators left the building, protesters chanted at them, "Open Michigan now!"

One of them, Dean Trexel, 46, of Muskegon, said he's an engineer who's been out of work since March 23 because of the stay-at-home order that forced many businesses to close.

He carried three air horns on the Capitol lawn with one in a hand and two in the pockets of his pants.

"The one-size-fits-all approach for Michigan doesn't work," Trexel said. "85% of the cases are in Detroit. And there's really no reason that west Michigan, much less the U.P., should be shut down."

Currently, about 74% of the state’s 39,262 confirmed cases are in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.

The new Senate resolutions don't carry the force of law but simply make formal requests of Whitmer.

One resolution, sponsored by Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, asked Whitmer to allow elective procedures in hospitals and to "allow health care providers the freedom to determine their capacity to handle elective procedures."

Michigan hospitals and surgery centers have had to lay off thousands of employees and some residents have gone without needed surgeries, Theis said.

In an effort to focus health care efforts on COVID-19 patients, Whitmer placed temporary restrictions on nonessential medical and dental procedures on March 20.

The second resolution, sponsored by Outman, asked Whitmer to adopt expanded federal guidance on which workers qualify as "essential" during the epidemic. Those workers are generally allowed to leave their homes and go to work despite the governor's stay-at-home order.

Whitmer has allowed many of the workers mentioned in the federal guidance to go to their jobs but she hasn't adopted the latest guidance, which has been expanded to include fields like home construction.

On Monday, Whitmer said commercial and residential construction would be among the next businesses to see eased restrictions.

The Michigan Senate meets on Tuesday, April 28, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Republican lawmakers have noted that Michigan's neighboring states, including Indiana and Ohio, have already adopted the expanded federal guidance.

Whitmer countered Monday that Michigan has more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than many other states and the state needs "a policy that makes sense for Michigan."

"This has hit Michigan uniquely hard," Whitmer said during a press conference.

Both Senate resolutions passed in voice votes, meaning there were no official tallies of where senators stand. But a group of Democrats appeared to be in opposition to the resolutions.

"Today, GOP leadership called us into Senate session to pass a resolution to ask the governor to allow home construction — something she already said yesterday she was going to do," tweeted Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield.

The Senate and House are both scheduled to be in session on Wednesday.