Michigan lawmakers OK pause in water shutoffs

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Public water shutoffs to residences would be banned through March under legislation that passed through the Senate and House this month. 

The House voted 96-9 Thursday to prohibit public water supplies from shutting off water service to an occupied residence whose occupant failed to pay through March 31, 2021. 

Members from various groups walk from Hart Plaza toward a press conference at the Spirit of Detroit as they carry a sign asking government officials to stop Detroit water shutoffs.

The legislation also would require the water supply to restore service if it had been shut off a year prior to the bill's effective date due to nonpayment unless doing so would cause harm due to improper cross-connection. If that is the case, the community must make best efforts to remedy the issue. 

The bill passed the Senate 30-8 last week. It heads next to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her signature.

The passage was celebrated by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which had been urging residents to contact their lawmakers to encourage the passage of the bill. 

"This is a major step forward in ensuring everyone in Michigan has clean, running water no matter their income," the ACLU said on Twitter. "Water is a human right, period."

State Sen. Stephanie Chang of Detroit, the bill's sponsor, also hailed the bill's passage. 

"Thank you to all the incredible advocates who fought tirelessly for our vulnerable residents to have access to water," 

The bill does not remove a resident's obligation to pay for water or reduce the amount of money a resident owes for water.

Under the legislation, any community that shut off water in the prior year due to nonpayment must report to the state detailing the efforts made to determine the number of those shutoffs and to remedy conditions preventing reconnection.

The passage of the bill comes a week and a half after the city of Detroit said it would continue a moratorium on residential water shutoffs through 2022 and attempt to end them permanently. 

Whitmer's original COVID-19 emergency orders included a moratorium on water shutoffs but her emergency authority under which she issued the stay was overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court in October.