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House Democratic leader threatens to file complaint if mask, firearm changes aren't made

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Rep. Christine Greig stands during the playing of the national anthem before the start of the session as the Legislature holds a highly unusual session Tuesday to vote whether to extend Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's state of emergency at the State Capitol in Lansing, Tuesday, April,7, 2020.

Michigan House Democratic Leader Christine Greig has threatened to file a complaint with state workplace safety regulators if GOP leaders fail to change the chamber's mask and gun policies. 

In a Monday open letter, Greig of Farmington Hills urged House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, to require all members to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when they reconvene Tuesday. 

She also criticized him for not banning firearms in the House.

Greig noted that the Legislature passed the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act to ensure "all employees shall be provided safe and healthful work environments free of recognized hazards."

"Surely, Mr. Speaker, you don’t believe that the Legislature intended our own workplace to be held to a laxer standard?" she wrote. 

Greig warned that without immediate action, "the House Democratic Caucus will take further steps to ensure a safe workplace, including filing a complaint with MIOSHA."

House Republican leadership fired back Monday, accusing Greig of a publicity stunt. 

"We all know MIOSHA can't trump the Constitution, and we all know this is a partisan press stunt," Chatfield spokesman Gideon D'Assandro said.  

"The House is doing important work this week to keep Michigan safe and help improve the state's response to the pandemic," he said. "The Legislature won't be distracted from that."

Current House rules require only chamber employees to wear masks while leaving House members to do as they choose, she noted. Several Republican House members in recent months have declined to wear their masks while in session. 

"Anyone observing the House will readily note that many members of your caucus routinely ignore social distancing and refuse to wear a mask to help protect others," said Greig, noting the "glaring example" of GOP Rep. Beau LaFave of Iron Mountain.

In late September, LaFave became the fourth state lawmaker to announce a positive test result for COVID-19. He claimed that he had been following "strict protocols," including social distancing, hand sanitizing and mask usage, during committee hearings and session.

Democratic state Reps. Karen Whitsett and Tyrone Carter, both of Detroit, announced positive COVID-19 tests in the spring and state Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, had a positive test in early August. 

State Rep. Isaac Robinson, D-Detroit, died March 29 from an illness his family believed was linked to the coronavirus. 

"You, Mr. Speaker, have the authority and the responsibility to address this dangerous situation without further, indefensible delay," Greig wrote. 

She also urged him to ban firearms in the Capitol and House office buildings, noting the recent alleged plans to storm the Capitol and take political hostages including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Chatfield wrote an open letter this weekend to Whitmer that noted the plot included possibly attacking the Capitol and that those in the Capitol were not warned of the plot to take hostages. 

"Some of the very same individuals arrested were among those who entered the Capitol building brandishing firearms, demanding to be allowed on the floor of both chambers, and menacing members," Greig said. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com