Bill Schuette: The choice between lives and jobs is a false dichotomy

Bill Schuette

Across America, families, communities, businesses and government are grappling with the challenge of beating the corona virus pandemic. As a nation, we have been making steady progress. But here in Michigan, with the latest executive order of April 9, we are witnessing some of the nation’s most restrictive directives which are killing small businesses, throwing people out of work and trampling constitutional rights. 

Using a broad brush to answer the question “what can we do safely?” merely results in an economic shutdown with catastrophic job losses. The real question for elected officials in Michigan to answer is “what can’t we do safely?” and get people back to work.  

The first order of business must be the health and safety of all Michiganians and Americans. This is a public health crisis. Social distancing, washing your hands frequently, proper sanitizing practices and wearing masks in public must be followed.

Slowly and painfully we are flattening the curve and mitigating the spread of infection. Still, the deaths of loved ones and friends is a shared hardship for every American. 

We are experiencing an economic crisis as well as a health crisis. Hundreds of thousands of Michigan citizens have lost their jobs. Small businesses are shuttered, and many families are suffering and out of work. Let’s get Michigan back on the job.

Smart social distancing should continue for a period of time. Large gatherings are out of the question. Dining in crowded restaurants and jam-packed bars may not happen for some time. Arena and stadium events are non-starters. These types of events can’t be done safely at this time.

Bill Schuette

But here are some suggestions that can be done safely to recharge Michigan’s economic engine:

►Be consistent and transparent: In Michigan, you can buy marijuana, but you can’t buy pots of flowers. You can take your children fishing in a canoe, but you can’t  go fishing in a 10 foot row boat with an old Johnson 5 horse motor. Issue consistent, understandable orders. Don’t  falsely accuse Betsy DeVos and her family for bankrolling and organizing a demonstration in opposition to draconian executive orders. 

►Follow CDC Guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has  recommendations for states to review for safety and protection. These guidelines provide significant structure for states to follow.

►Categorize the nursery plant industry as “essential." Nursery plant stores are closed and farmers who grow flowering plants and vegetables are facing economic disaster. Work with the nursery industry and the Michigan Farm Bureau to open stores with social distancing requirements, just like pot shops or drive through pharmacies.

►Free the landscaping industry. Right now, landscapers are getting hammered. It is springtime. Allow those who can work outside to prune trees, mow lawns, apply fertilizer and get a paycheck.

►Residential and commercial building is at a standstill. Builders work outside and can navigate safe work conditions, just as grocery stores work hard to provide a safe environment to purchase food and other essential items. Free up contractors to get their employees back on the job.

►Allow quarantine-related travel. Michigan has a history of families going to their cabin, camp (in U.P. language) or cottage. The latest executive order prohibits a citizen of Michigan from exercising this right and constitutes a taking of property without due process. Revoke this order. Now.

►We are the car state. Today in Michigan, you can get your vehicle serviced, but you cannot buy a new car in the showroom. Change the rules and permit new-car buying in the showrooms, with proper social distancing. 

►Let’s have consistency to permit your canoe, kayak, paddle board, sailboat  and motor boats all legal for use. No party boats and and large capacity cruise boating, but permit family use on our magnificent lakes and rivers.

These suggestions would help recharge Michigan’s economy.  Let’s get people back to work, put money in their pockets and provide the cash to order up more takeout food at Michigan restaurants.  

We don't have to choose between saving lives and saving jobs. We can do both. 

Bill Schuette served as attorney general of Michigan from 2011-2018. He also served as a member of the United States House of Representatives, Michigan agriculture director, Michigan state senator and judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals.