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Michigan Legislature OKs unemployment, legal liability bills

LANSING (AP) — Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature on Wednesday voted to keep intact longer-lasting unemployment benefits and other coronavirus-related orders issued by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, while also striking a deal on liability protections for businesses.

The move followed a monthlong fight over Whitmer’s unilateral measures to control the pandemic after lawmakers refused to extend her emergency declaration last spring. The state Supreme Court this month declared unconstitutional a 75-year-old law that had underpinned Whitmer’s restrictions.

The unemployment measure was among several approved during a lengthy session that began Tuesday and did not end until after 3 a.m. Businesses, health providers and others who are sued over COVID-19 infections would be more shielded from lawsuits, as long as they comply with safety rules. Under another bill, employers cannot discharge, discipline or retaliate against employees who stay home when they or their close contacts are sick.

The Oct. 2 high court ruling means Whitmer’s emergency declaration and underlying orders are no longer in effect. Her administration quickly reinstated mask requirements, business capacity restrictions and other rules under a public health law.

But the court decision forced her to work with the GOP-controlled Legislature on some issues.

Other measures sent to the governor following hours of negotiations would codify her administration’s recently announced changes related to the care of nursing home residents recovering from the virus, let public bodies continue to meet electronically, and extend renewal dates for driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. A nursing home can be a designated “care and recovery” center only if it has a federal staffing rating of at least three out of five stars and the staff are solely dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients.

The sponsor of the unemployment bill, Republican Sen. Ken Horn of Frankenmuth, said it would ensure that people out of work during the pandemic see no interruption in benefits. Whitmer last spring extended the maximum length of state payments from 20 to 26 weeks, and made other unemployment changes.

The jobless can receive additional payments from the federal government once they exhaust their state benefits.

The provisions in the unemployment bill would remain in place through Dec. 31.

“It’s good the Legislature took a step forward to provide immediate, temporary relief for families, but the bills just kick the can down the road and the Legislature needs to take further action to make this permanent,” Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said.

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