Detroit News. May 19, 2021.

Editorial: Michigan’s COVID cops still hard at work

Michiganians gave a sigh of relief Friday when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told them the good news that fully vaccinated residents could opt out of wearing their masks. This follows the science that vaccines are getting us back to normal.

But don’t celebrate too much. And don’t throw out your mask.

Whitmer didn’t have much choice but to loosen the state’s grip on citizens after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last Thursday said those who have received the complete dose of the COVID-19 vaccine can congregate indoors or outdoors without masks.

The governor is also considering loosening other Michigan Department of Health and Human Services COVID orders by the end of the week, which could mean she’s moving up the timeline of her “Vacc to Normal” reopening metrics.

That’s great. Yet while Whitmer is signaling Michigan is moving on from a year of heavy-handed restrictions, state bureaucrats in her administration’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity haven’t gotten the memo.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration is responsible for crafting the emergency rules still governing workplaces. Those rules got extended last month through October. Many of them contradict what Whitmer is saying, and this is causing consternation among employers.

Simultaneously, MIOSHA is pushing to make most of the emergency rules permanent once the “temporary” ones expire. Michigan is one of only three states contemplating such a long-term solution for what should be a temporary crisis.

For the permanent rules to take effect, the agency has to go through the formal rule-making process. It is currently taking public comment on the rules, and has a public hearing scheduled Wednesday.

This has business groups on edge as these complicated mandates could make a return to the office extremely hard to navigate. Employers who are found out of compliance face large fines.

The rules, which comprise eight pages and more than 3,400 words, lay out strict guidelines for all businesses, from restaurants to stadiums. As the rules are currently written, masks are required of employees and customers, and vaccination status isn’t mentioned at all.

Social distancing, cleaning requirements and health screening of employees are also paramount. And no sunset provisions are included.

The draft language of these permanent rules has not changed as of this writing, despite the new mask guidance.

In a statement from earlier in the week, COVID-19 Workplace Safety Director Sean Egan said: “MIOSHA is in the process of reviewing the emergency rules and draft permanent rules and will soon post updates that reflect the CDC’s recent guidance.”

A spokesman for the Labor Department said Wednesday the review is still ongoing.

That’s extremely vague. It also raises plenty of concerns about what these unelected bureaucrats will suggest. For instance, will they make employers congregate vaccinated employees who can go maskless away from other coworkers? Will some form of “vaccine passport” be necessary for businesses to comply?

As we’ve seen in recent weeks, vaccines are making a huge difference in combating the virus and things are improving quickly. It makes no sense for the Whitmer administration to be pursuing permanent restrictions that will cripple our state’s comeback.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. May 20, 2021.

Editorial: Gov. trip a flight of fancy

As parents we caution our kids, “the truth is never as bad as the lie.”

As grownups we tell each other, “the cover-up is worse than the crime.”

Some add a quiet, “... but only if you get caught.”

But, as Michigan’s governor is learning, not all quiet acts stay quiet. Some crash and burn, with cover-ups designed to douse that only add fuel to the fire.

What started with mere hypocrisy — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and others in her office traveled in March when her own Department of Health and Human Services chastened others to stay put — continues to reveal a number of questionable decisions, seemingly designed to keep Michiganders in the dark.

Traveling to an ailing parent is actually the call we take least issue with. The pandemic did not stop kids from caring about their aging parents, and many of us have made such trips in the last year. We got vaccinated. We bought a ticket. We flew commercial.

But every new detail learned about Whitmer’s flight careens it further into the Twilight Zone.

Whitmer took a private plane — a Gulfstream G280 flown by Air Eagle LLC. When this emerged, she said it was as a COVID-19 safety precaution. Then we learned the plane is used by three of our state’s most prominent political donors, the Nicholson family (PVS Chemicals); the Moroun family (Central Transport) and the Cotton family (Meridian Health, formerly), according to The Detroit News.

After dodging questions for weeks, Whitmer’s chief of staff put out a statement last week that the flights were neither gift nor taxpayer expense, and said Whitmer paid her way — specifically $855 for a seat. Whitmer’s nonprofit, Transition Michigan, also paid the company $27,521 in May for March flights ... a payment that conspicuously coincides to when the controversy began to heat up.

Whitmer’s use of a nonprofit to pay for the flights — while frustratingly common in politics — reveals ethics quandaries as nonprofits aren’t bound to rules of campaign finance, and can be used as a shield. This doesn’t quite rise to Transition Michigan’s own mission of “social welfare” for the people of Michigan.

Converging on this flight path is the Federal Aviation Administration’s report that neither the company, nor the plane was authorized to be a charter service to begin with.

We, along with the rest of the state, have been chewing on this convoluted tangle for weeks, and show no sign of losing our appetite. Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland) told the News on Monday he’s considering opening hearings on the matter and a complaint was submitted to the Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday.

Coming clean about a bad decision is one thing — it’s one news cycle, one set of uncomfortable consequences. Cover-ups — where truth must be unearthed in chunks — ensures we’ll follow this long after the contrail disappears from the sky.

Legality won’t provide the Governor a parachute, as the turbulence comes of her own decision-making. The Governor staked a claim on creating better transparency in government. We think she should stop taking Michiganders on a flight of fancy.

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(Marquette) The Mining Journal. May 20, 2021.

Editorial: Reinstatement of work-search rule now appropriate

Our great state is looking to energize its economy by getting those who are able back to work, while also continuing to support its residents who can’t return to the workforce at this time.

Michigan will reinstate a requirement that people receiving unemployment benefits show they are actively searching for work, effective May 30, but has no immediate plan to end a $300 weekly federal supplement going to 816,000 jobless residents, according to The Associated Press.

All seven of the state’s Republican U.S. House members wrote a letter to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday urging a halt to the extra payment, which is on top of maximum state benefits of $362 per week.

“We call on you to end participation in this program to get our state’s economy back on track and ensure our employers have access to the talent they need to return to normal,” they said, citing rising vaccination rates and echoing a call that at least one small business group made last week. They said the benefits are too robust, incentivizing the unemployed to not return to work.

But Lynda Robinson, spokeswoman for the state Unemployment Insurance Agency, said it does not plan to end any federal unemployment programs, including for self-employed or gig workers who began qualifying at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The extra federal benefit is set to expire in September.

The work-search requirement, which was waived starting in March 2020, will be restored. Claimants will have to conduct at least one work-search activity for each week they certify for benefits.

“The governor does not support taking unemployment benefits away from people who have lost a job through no fault of their own during a pandemic,” spokesman Bobby Leddy said Tuesday. “Instead, we will deploy the critical federal aid we’ve received through President Biden’s American Rescue Plan to set up our state for success and ensure that Michigan’s families, businesses and communities emerge stronger than ever from this pandemic.”

We believe it’s due time to re-establish the work-search rule in Michigan. Sure, there are some Michiganders who are still bound by the confines of the pandemic and because of their specific profession, they are still unable to return to work. Those people should still receive assistance. However, that is not the case with the greater majority of the state’s unemployed at this time, and this rule is a great way to help bolster our economy and move past this pandemic.

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