MIRS provides comprehensive news and analysis of state government delivered in written reports detailing the activities of the House, Senate, Judicial and Executive branches of Michigan state government.
Michigan News And Capitol Report, Week Ending, Fri., January 8, 2021
Why 60% Of MI's Unemployed Are Temporarily Without Benefits
The $300 in additional federal unemployment checks on the regular state program could begin by the end of next week. But for the 544,000 Michiganders whose benefits ceased on Dec. 26, they'll have to wait longer because those programs "will take longer to implement," according to the state Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) this week.
President Donald Trump signed into law on Dec. 27 a new federal COVID-19 aid package continuing the expanded pandemic unemployment assistance for Americans, but not before the previous programs expired Dec. 26.
One of those -- the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program -- provided a total of 24 additional weeks to those who had exhausted their regular state benefits. The other -- the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program -- extended unemployment to people who are typically not eligible for such benefits, like the self-employed, said UIA spokesperson Lynda Robinson.
The lag between when the old programs expired and when the new bill was signed meant a combined 544,192 unemployment claimants out of the roughly 900,000 on unemployment in Michigan have been going without payments since that time, meaning 60% of the state's unemployed claimants are going without payments.
Michigan is awaiting additional guidance from the feds to get the program back up and running. Robinson said the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) and Michigan have not completed a "review of the amendments to the eligibility, certification, and other requirements for the extension of these programs and the subsequent updates to the UI system."
She said the guidance from the USDOL provides new rules and modifications that mean the state's unemployment system has to be updated.
"The earlier this package could have been passed, the better," Robinson said, when asked if the situation would've been avoided if the bill had been signed into law before the other programs expired. "It would have allowed USDOL and all states more time to review and have programs implemented faster, reducing delays for claimants."
She said the UIA is working to implement the new federal programs, with the $300 payments beginning at the end of next week for people on regular state unemployment.
According to CNBC, the timing of Trump's signing of the bill resulted in 14 million going without unemployment temporarily.
Gov's Goal Is For Every School To Offer In-Person Option By March 1
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Friday announced the state has set a goal to have every Michigan school district offer some sort of in-person learning option by March 1, if not sooner.
The governor did not say she was requiring schools to provide in-person learning. Asked why she didn't require it, Whitmer said there's 800-plus school districts in Michigan and that they've worked with the education community to "strike the right balance."
At least one source in the education community told MIRS Whitmer wouldn't be able to require such an option under the Return to Learn legislation signed into law last year.
Whitmer said medical experts and epidemiologists believe, after following the data for months, that schools can keep things safe even during the pandemic if everyone wears masks and follows infection prevention protocols.
"Schools have demonstrated that they can provide a safe learning environment for their students and safe workplaces for their staff," Whitmer said.
That, and the governor said the "value of in-person learning for our kids is immeasurable."
Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun also noted it's "especially challenging when parents have to figure out how to work and take care of children who are home all day."
While the governor said many districts have been "largely open" for in-person learning since the beginning of this school year, she said she was surprised to learn about how few schools were offering in-person learning in Ingham County, where she lives with the First Family.
The announcement comes the same week that Whitmer and her administration said they'd begin allowing pre K-12 staff to begin getting vaccinated.
Asked if the March 1 date meant she was confident everyone in the second vaccination phase would be inoculated by then, the governor said schools have been successful with in-person learning "even before vaccines were . . . imminently on the horizon" and that she believes "a lot of our educational workforce" will be vaccinated in the next month or so.
Whitmer was asked if she believes teachers should be mandated to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but she said that's "not necessary" because "people want to get this vaccine," and that confidence in the vaccine is growing.
Many educational groups issued statements in support of the governor's announcement Friday, as did State Superintendent Michael Rice, Launch Michigan and the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
A joint statement from AFT-Michigan, the Michigan Association of School Boards, the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, Middle Cities Education Association and Michigan Education Association said it's always been their "most fervent wish to safely reopen our schools for in-person learning" but that "containing the spread of this deadly disease was -- and continues to be -- job one."
In addition to the guidance for schools released by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in conjunction with setting the in-person learning goal of March 1, the school groups also said they applaud the "$1 billion in federal funding to implement these mitigation steps, especially when it comes to strict infection-control protocols."
The K-12 Alliance said in a separate statement that "broad access to the COVID-19 vaccine for school employees and ensuring there is very clear guidance made available on when vaccinated employees can return to work" are key to making in-person learning happen.
Yet the Great Lakes Education Project said the time to reopen schools was now, not March.
They’ve been against Whitmer's "decision to lock students out of their classrooms" although the Return to Learn law from last year did give local school districts the choice of how to go about learning this year.
In the most recent epidemic order issued by the DHHS just before Christmas, colleges, universities and high schools were all permitted to return to in-person learning after the DHHS barred that in an epidemic order from November.
Whitmer Asked About Outbreaks In Bars/Restaurants; Schools
The governor was asked about the number of documented outbreaks at schools compared to bars and restaurants, and whether she'd consider allowing in-person dining to again resume, as the current order banning that expires Jan. 15.
Whitmer said "studies have shown" that bars and restaurants are "where we see many outbreaks" and that contact tracing abilities are "underwhelming on that front."
According to the state's most recent outbreak data from Dec. 30, ongoing outbreaks at bars and restaurants combined for a total of six, while ongoing K-12 school outbreaks amounted to 76.
As for new outbreaks that week, the bars and restaurants had four total, and K-12 schools were at two.
Bars and restaurants have been closed to indoor service since November, and Dec. 30 falls during most schools' holiday breaks.
Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale) issued a press release urging Whitmer to "stop crushing local restaurants" and to not further extend the current indoor service ban.
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What 6 MI Residents Arrested On D.C. Have In Common
The six Michigan residents listed as being among the arrested in connection with the U.S. Capitol breach and unrest Wednesday have several things in common.
For starters, none of them voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential primary in Michigan because records show only one of them voted in that election, and he voted on the Democratic side.
In fact, research provided by Practical Political Consultants (PPC) found none of the six are active primary voters at all. Three of them may not have voted in any Michigan election. Ever.
"The main theme is not one of them are married. They don't apparently own their residences. They don't vote much, and they move around a lot," said Mark Grebner of PPC. "They live with random people about their own ages, but not very long with any of them.
"In short, they don't seem very rooted, but they also don't seem like the shock troops of some political movement."
Matthew Staley, 44, Micah Femia, 36, Shaun Floyd, 44, and Ryan Williams, 29, were arrested for curfew violations only while John Parke, 64, was arrested in the 100 block of First Street NW for violating curfew and unlawful entry, according to an arrest log from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in the District of Columbia.
The MPD's information, which didn't provide hometowns, didn't say whether Parke was one of the people seen around the world in videos pushing past police and breaking into the Capitol, which is located on First Street. However, an employee who answered the MPD's press line said "unlawful entry" is specific to federal grounds, but he couldn't say that meant the Capitol building.
A sixth Michigan resident, Logan Grimes, 25, was charged with carrying a pistol without a license, possession of a large capacity ammunition feeding device, and possession of unregistered ammunition in the 1000 block of Vermont Avenue NW, the MPD reported.
A "feeding device" is defined as a "magazine, belt, drum, feed strip or similar device" capable of accepting more than 10 rounds of ammunition and it carries a penalty of up to three years in prison, according to DC law.
Grimes is the one who voted Democratic in the 2016 primary and who lives with a family with a Democratic history, according to PPC.
Grimes' stepfather, Andrew Hanselman, of Wyoming, told Fox 17 that he knows Grimes has been "active in politics . . . or peaceful protests," but he didn’t know if the 25-year-old man had entered the Capitol.
"I don’t know what words to use; it was just so disgusting," Hanselman told the station about what happened at the Capitol. "The vitriol and the hatred has just grown so out of hand."
What PPC's Mark Grebner also found is Parke and Staley are the most politically active of the bunch. Staley voted in five even-year November elections, but no primary elections. Parke has a "fairly good voter record," but, again, never participated in a Republican presidential primary.
If there are records showing Femia, Floyd or Williams have ever voted, Grebner can't find them. MIRS also spent several hours looking for information on any of the six with limited success.
Meanwhile, Matthew Schneider, the U.S. Attorney for Michigan's Eastern District, confirmed his Detroit office is working with the FBI to determine if anyone traveled from Michigan to D.C. "with the intention to commit violence."
"That's an ongoing investigation; the FBI is handling it," he said. ". . . We don't know that the intent to commit a crime didn't occur in another state and that happens all the time, people formulate a plan to commit a crime and cross state lines to effectuate that . . .
"People have to understand you cannot commit federal crimes like this and expect to get away with it," Schneider added. "We have to cast a wide net to make sure all the people who were involved in violence are brought to justice. If that means it spreads outside DC then so be it."
Conspiracy charges could come to anyone who fits that category. As for those in DC, rioters could face a variety of charges including civil disorder or misdemeanor destruction of federal government property valued at less than $1,000. However, felonies could include assaulting a federal police officer, using a destructive device or a 10-year offense of destroying government property valued at more than $1,000.
Included on the MDP list were arrestees from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Arizona, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, California, Colorado, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Illinois, West Virginia and North Dakota as well as 10 people whose home state were marked as "unknown."
The only person identified on the arrest log as being charged with the riot act is DC resident Joshua Pruitt, 39, whose charges also include unlawful entry and curfew violation.
Trump supporters successfully seized the Capitol, leading to lawmakers being escorted to secure locations before law enforcement could secure the building.
By the end, three people died of medical emergencies and one woman, 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt, of Huntington, Maryland, was fatally shot by U.S. Capitol Police, and a Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered during the riot.
Fifty-six officers were injured, and two were hospitalized. Dozens were arrested and two pipe bombs were recovered from the DNC and RNC, and law enforcement also recovered six firearms.
Schneider, who is a Trump appointee, denounced the violence, noting that although appointed by the president, his oath is wholly to the Constitution.
"It was horrible. It was disgusting. It was one of the worst things to happen," he said about Wednesday's events. "It was disgraceful to our American way of life. It's not just how we operate in America. We operate under peaceful demonstrations. We don't do this . . .
"Invading the Capitol, engaging in acts of violence and assaulting federal officers is not peaceful in anyway. That is a crime and it should be prosecuted as such," Schneider added.
The FBI is seeking tips and digital media depicting rioting or violence in or around the Capitol. People are asked to call 1-800-CALL-FBI or visit its website.
No Lawyers Remain As State Senators; First Time In State History
Going back to when Michigan was admitted into the union in 1837, the Michigan Senate has never been without an attorney as one of its elected members. Until now.
With Pete Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) gone to become the Macomb County Prosecutor, not a single member of the state Senate is a practicing attorney, according to research conducted by MIRS using the Michigan Legislative Biography website.
"It's sad," said former Sen. Steve Bieda, the last Democratic state senator with a law degree. "We're at a point in our society where we disregard the expertise people have in certain areas."
None of the people elected to write the laws in the Senate have a law degree. Based on research, the 2019-20 session marked the only time in Michigan history that the Senate only had one elected attorney as a member. Prior to that, the fewest was the 1853-54 session, where two members were attorneys.
After that, the 2015-16 and 2017-18 sessions tied with the 1842, 1951, and 1897-98 sessions with three.
Bieda, former Sen. Tory Rocca, and Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker made up the most recent trio.
A review of senator attorneys in the last 80 years shows the number hung between six to a high of 13 in the 1957-58 session up until the early 1990s, when the numbers started to drop. From 2003-2014, the upper chamber had either four or five per session.
From 1837 to 2020, the average number of attorneys in the Senate per session is about seven. The highest was in the 1881-82 session when 14 of the 32 members were attorneys.
Back in the day, Bieda said attorneys were not allowed to advertise so many chose to run for office to make themselves more well-known. When advertising was later allowed, an incentive to run for office disappeared.
Nowadays, the pay for a state legislator is about $70,000 a year, much less than what an attorney in private practice can make. For those who are trying to get their business off the ground, taking a few years off to be a legislator is a financial disincentive, he said.
"It is hard to find people willing to step away from jobs and careers for a few years to do the job of a legislator," he said. "There are no bonuses, no pensions and no future in the job."
Those lawyers who do run for office look to judgeships, which are nonpartisan and, in many cases, not as expensive.
"Why would someone want to interrupt their successful law practice and serve in what is considered to be a part-time job?" asked former Sen. Bruce Patterson, another attorney by trade. "I have a hard time understanding why anyone would choose to serve these days."
The politics, he says, has gotten so "rotten" that "nobody wants to do it."
"It takes a lot of time and effort to build a practice and when you are settled, making good money, you're not going to just walk away from that. The upside just isn't there for lawyers."
Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) said he reflected on this significant change recently and said he's "excited" to see the type of legislation that can be crafted without a licensed attorney within their membership.
In fact, he said he joked with his wife after she had been admitted into the bar recently that, "In Michigan, you need a license to practice the law, but you don't need a license to make the law.
"She told me, 'We can tell.'"