Michigan House pushes voting into next week as COVID cases, exposures increase

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House of Representatives will take no votes this week as an undisclosed number of staff members and lawmakers have tested positive for coronavirus or were exposed to someone with COVID-19.

The House will "technically" remain in session but will take no votes through the week, said House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell. 

“Unfortunately, the same COVID wave that is spiking across the country is now reaching a high point in Michigan," Wentworth said in a Monday statement. "We have members and staff who are either awaiting test results, need to be tested after a close contact tested positive, or have tested positive themselves." 

Wentworth spokesman Gideon D'Assandro said there isn't a "definitive list" or tally of those affected, but said it was enough to move votes into next week. The House may still hold committee meetings.

The Michigan Senate plans to remain in session.

Michigan House of Representatives is seen in this file photo from 2018.

On its most recent session day, Wednesday, the House had nine absent members in addition to the four vacancies that will be filled later this year, bringing the number of House lawmakers that day to 97. 

Both parties went into caucus Wednesday but moved the meetings to larger rooms than the typical, smaller caucus locations. Republicans met in the House Appropriations Committee room and Democratic members met in the Speaker's Library. 

With Republicans maintaining a slim majority in the House, 55-51, it would only take a few GOP absences for leadership to lack the votes needed to get a party-line bill approved.  

Wentworth said the House was acting with caution to ensure "everyone is able to do the right thing and follow the most updated recommendations." No time-sensitive votes are scheduled for this week, he said.

"Additionally, all other state services from the Capitol will still be available, including representatives and staff being available to answer questions, take feedback and help constituents with any problems they have in state government," Wentworth said. "That is a priority, and it will not be interrupted.” 

Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, on Monday criticized the lack of safe meeting options members have had since the start of the pandemic. 

"...Masks still are not required on the House floor, and the majority of the Legislature does not intend to take any action to mitigate this spread," Koleszar said. 

The state has reported increasing numbers of COVID cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks as the highly contagious omicron variant tightens its grip on Michigan. 

As of Friday, 37,114 COVID-19 cases and 251 deaths from the virus from a two-day period were added to Michigan's overall tally. 

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Friday reported 4,579 adults were hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus. Since state government offices are closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, COVID-19 numbers weren't scheduled to be announced on Monday.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

Staff Writers Sarah Rahal and Craig Mauger contributed.