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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 shutoffs.

``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 through 2022.

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.



Copyright © 1989 to 2020 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 12/22/20 21:45:15 -0800.




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