MAT Legislative Update
By: Jason Wadaga
Following a set of Michigan Supreme Court rulings last month the legislature was forced to hustle back into session in October to quickly pass legislation that was originally addressed by executive order.
Several COVID-19 related issues affecting Michigan businesses were passed and signed into law. Governor Whitmer was also forced to pivot away from her previous executive orders and address her priorities for fighting the pandemic through state departments as best she could.
MI Supreme Court Strikes Down Re-Issuing of Emergency Orders
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled last month that Gov. Whitmer lacked "the authority to declare a 'state of emergency' or a 'state of disaster'" under the 1976 Emergency Management Act after April 30 and that the 1945 Emergency Powers of Governor Act is in violation of the Constitution because it "purports to delegate to the executive branch the legislative powers of state government.” The court ruled the Governor possessed no authority to re-declare (which had been done several times) the same state of emergency or state of disaster orders and thereby avoid the Legislature's limitation on her authority.
Following the decision Gov. Whitmer immediately asked the Michigan Supreme court to clarify a request that she made claiming her orders would remain in effect for 21-28 days. That request for an extension was denied by the supreme court saying they lacked the authority to do-so.
In response to the original court decision, the Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reinstated many aspects of Gov. Whitmer’s COVID-19 emergency orders including mask requirements, gathering size limitations, and bar restrictions.
DHHS Director Robert Gordon made this decision citing a 1978 statute not included in the court case. This law (MCL 333.2253) says if the DHHS director determines that controlling an epidemic is necessary to protect the public health, he or she can prohibit public gatherings, among other actions geared toward protecting public health.
The order will:
· Require people to wear masks at indoor and outdoor gatherings, except for residential gatherings, where the wearing of masks is recommended. Masks also are still required for schools across the state, except for the Traverse City region, also referred to as region six.
· Require that athletes training, practicing, or competing in organized sports must still wear a face covering as well, except when swimming, or consistently maintain six feet of distance.
· Puts limitations on gathering sizes that mirror the requirements from the Governor’s previous orders.
Governor, Legislature Come to Agreement on Several COVID-19 Business Related Items
The striking down of the Governor’s emergency powers effectively ended some business regulations that had been done previously by executive order. This forced the Governor and the legislature to compromise on a package of bills to address these issues moving forward during the pandemic.
Included in the package of bills (that were signed into law) was legislation that would:
Continue unemployment benefits for an expanded 26 weeks and continuing protections for employees quarantining due to COVID-19. This was priority number one in the package of bills by both parties.
Say that as long as a business has been in compliance with all federal, state and local laws and rules, it cannot be held liable if someone believes he or she contracted COVID-19 at the worksite.
Prevent an employer from firing someone for staying home out of concerns they have COVID-19. That passed unanimously.
Ensure that those with COVID-19 or those caring for a loved one with COVID-19 are able to receive the expanded 26 weeks of unemployment as opposed to the standard 20
FMCSA Revises Hours of Service (HOS) Regulations
FMCSA revised the “Hours of service” (HOS) regulations to provide greater flexibility for drivers subject to the rules without adversely affecting safety.
As part of the new rules, the agency:
· Expanded the short-haul exception to 150 air-miles and allows a 14-hour work shift to take place as part of the exception.
· Expanded the driving window during adverse driving conditions by up to an additional 2 hours.
· Requires a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time) and allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.
· Modifies the sleeper berth exception to allow a driver to meet the 10-hour minimum off-duty requirement by spending at least 7, rather than 8 hours of that period in the berth and a minimum off-duty period of at least 2 hours spent inside or outside of the berth, provided the two periods total at least 10 hours, and that neither qualifying period counts against the 14-hour hour driving window.
This rule took effect on September 29, 2020.