Michigan lawmakers reinstate freeze on water shutoffs
By DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press
LANSING, Dec. 17, 2020 (AP) _ Michigan lawmakers voted Thursday
to prohibit water shutoffs across the state through March,
reinstating a moratorium that was upended by a court ruling.
The bill, which received final approval 96-9 from the House,
will be signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. It was among a
number of pandemic-related measures approved by legislators—some
with consensus, others along party lines—as they worked to
finish business before adjourning for the year.
Negotiations over $100 million in aid for small businesses and
laid-off workers continued between the Democratic governor and
the Republican-led Legislature.
Whitmer had barred water shutoffs in an order last spring. But
the state Supreme Court in October declared unconstitutional a
law that was the basis for the governor's sweeping orders to
curb the coronavirus and provide relief such as a freeze on
``Water is a human right and, especially amid the COVID-19
pandemic, is essential to hydration, hygiene and public
health,'' said the bill sponsor, Democratic Sen. Stephanie Chang
of Detroit. ``It is my hope that this bill, combined with recent
efforts by the city of Detroit, will give residents some peace
of mind as we head into the new year and one less thing to worry
about during this difficult time.''
Detroit last week announced an extension of shutoff protections
The House remained in session Thursday night. Majority
Republicans voted to limit the length of COVID-19 restrictions
issued by the Whitmer administration to 28 days, unless they
were extended by the Legislature. The governor would veto the
bill, which needs a final Senate vote after a change was made.
Rep. Ben Frederick,
an Owosso Republican, criticized Whitmer's ``heavy-handedness''
and said the measure would give legislators a say.
``From the beginning of this pandemic, the people of Michigan
have been put through a process of vagaries and open-ended
stress, denied hope and critical engagement, and any measure of
certainty,`` he said. ``We as lawmakers have had a diminished
voice on their behalf.''
The House also broke on party lines in passing legislation that
would extend existing virus-related liability protections for
health care providers to include psychiatric hospitals and
nursing homes. The bill would also apply the shield
retroactively, starting Oct. 30 and lasting through Feb. 13.
The Senate adjourned until Friday after taking a final vote to
extend public bodies' ability to meet remotely through March.
Senators, by a voice vote, approved a resolution that _ if also
passed by the House—would create a GOP-dominated legislative
commission that could try to block any new rules or regulations
created by the Whitmer administration between when the
Legislature officially adjourns late this month and a new one
convenes Jan. 13. Republicans remain frustrated by the state
health department's order that has prohibited indoor restaurant
dining and in-person instruction at high schools while also
closing entertainment venues.
Democrats said such a panel, if formed, could halt rules
promulgated by an agency between legislative session—not an
order issued by a state officer such as Health and Human
Services Director Robert Gordon.