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Michigan Gov. Whitmer vetoes bill to expand legal protections for health care industry

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed Monday a bill from the GOP-controlled Legislature that would have provided additional liability protections for health care workers and facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to lawmakers about her decision, the governor said the Republican proposal went "much further" than the protections established in her past executive orders. The bill would have given health care providers "broad immunity" every time an emergency is declared "regardless of whether the circumstances demand this extreme measure," Whitmer said.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visits an emergency shelter for flood evacuees at Midland High School.

"A person receiving treatment at a hospital or a resident in a nursing home would be powerless to seek relief when they are harmed in any but the most egregious cases," Whitmer wrote.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael MacDonald, R-Macomb Township, was developed after discussions with the health care community to recognize the unprecedented pressures and changing guidance medical personnel faced daily during the pandemic, MacDonald chief of staff Eric Stocker said previously.

"By vetoing this measure, the governor is just making it harder for medical professionals to do their job," MacDonald said in a statement. "As this global pandemic continues, our doctors and nurses should be able to focus on providing the best care possible for their patients without worrying about possible lawsuits."

Whitmer's declaration of a state of emergency under the 1976 Emergency Management Act provided some liability protections for front line workers. Executive Order 30 added liability protections and was extended under Executive Order 61, but that order was rescinded July 13. 

The Legislature's bill would have added language to the 1976 Emergency Management Act specific to the COVID-19 pandemic that would have established expanded liability protections from March 10 through Jan. 1, 2021.

The current law provides immunity protections for doctors and hospitals during a state of disaster declared by the governor. The immunity does not apply to willful or gross negligence. Under the bill, protections would have also gone to licensed health care providers, outpatient facilities, nursing homes and hospice or surgical centers.

"Senate Bill 899 would endanger patients and workers unnecessarily, making it nearly impossible to obtain relief from injury during a state of emergency," Whitmer said in a statement.

Republicans slammed Whitmer for vetoing the bill.

Michigan's heath care workers "are working on the front lines under incredibly difficult conditions and doing the very best they can to protect lives and keep our families safe," said House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering.

"They deserve to know we all have their back and that we support them as they focus their time on providing top notch care, instead of worrying about politics, evolving legal opinions and frivolous lawsuits," Chatfield said.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed