LANSING, MI — Even with Michigan’s Legislature on summer break and the state Senate coming in to vote for just one day Thursday, it was an eventful week in Michigan politics.
Grassroots conservative groups claimed victories this week with the resignation of former GOP Executive Director Jason Roe and the repeal of the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to declare and extend a state of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
Here are the highlights from this week from Lansing:
A ‘RINO’ hunt after Michigan GOP director resigns
A high-ranking Michigan Republican Party official who faced calls for censure and removal after blaming Donald Trump for losing the 2020 election has resigned.
Jason Roe announced his resignation this week from his position as executive director of the state Republican party.
“I have resigned my position as executive director and the reasons will remain between me and (GOP Chairman Ron) Weiser. We’ve built an amazing team and I know they will be very successful in 2022. I look forward to helping anyway I can,” Roe said.
Roe, who has been facing pressure from grassroots activists for his criticisms of Trump, didn’t go into the specifics of his departure.
Read more: Michigan GOP director resigns after facing pushback for criticizing Trump
More than 550 conservative activists supported an effort to censure and remove Roe for comments made that former President Donald Trump “blew” his 2020 election loss.
In a May 17 interview with MIRS News, Roe said he stands by earlier remarks that Trump “blew” the 2020 election. Roe has said uniting the Republican Party is one of the biggest challenges going into the 2022 election season.
Eight months after Michigan certified its election results, the GOP is dealing with internal disagreements about whether to back Trump’s false assertion that the state’s electoral votes were stolen from him. Trump himself told supporters to “get rid of” Republicans who were disloyal to him after the Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol.
Efforts to remove members of the party who “betray” the former president and his false claims are ramping up.
Despite party Chairman Ron Weiser dismissing the speculation, Debra Ell, a prominent grassroots organizer who has been collecting signatures to censure Roe, told MLive on Wednesday that she believes Roe was fired.
“He had no choice,” Ell said. “This is the beginning of the RINO hunt.”
Read more: Don’t believe in election fraud? GOP on ‘RINO hunt’ for Republicans who accept Trump lost in 2020
Senate adopts petition initiative to repeal emergency powers law
The Michigan Senate approved Unlock Michigan’s initiative to repeal the law used by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to issue emergency orders without legislative approval in the early months of the pandemic, bringing the effort one step closer to becoming law.
Unlock Michigan’s initiative would repeal the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945, which Whitmer used to declare and extend a state of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic until the Michigan Supreme Court determined she did not have the authority to do so in October 2020.
Read more: Michigan Senate votes to repeal emergency powers law after successful petition initiative
The Unlock Michigan initiative does not impact another, more recent state of emergency law on the books that allows the governor to declare a state of emergency for 28 days, after which the governor must seek legislative approval for a state of emergency to continue.
Senators voted 20-15 to approve the measure, although Senate Democrats blocked it from taking immediate effect. It now moves to the House for final consideration — if both chambers vote to approve the measure, the proposal becomes law without needing the governor’s signature.
Senate debate on the floor rehashed many of the fault lines that erupted between the Republican-majority Legislature and the Whitmer administration over the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on the use of executive orders that restricted in-person business and activity and implemented mask-wearing requirements without input from lawmakers.
When the Legislature declined to extend the coronavirus state of emergency past April 30, Whitmer argued the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act gave her authority to continue the state of emergency and used broad executive powers to issue orders restricting in-person business and activity until the Michigan Supreme Court determined she didn’t have that authority last fall.
Investigation planned for Michigan’s unemployment agency
Michigan’s unemployment agency is “a complete mess” and will be investigated by the Michigan House Oversight Committee, according to a statement from Chairman Steve Johnson, R-Wayland.
Johnson plans to have the committee do an in-depth investigation, starting with hearings “on the pattern of mismanagement, incompetence and outright fraud” within the agency, he said.
Read more: Lawmaker plans probe into mistakes, fraud in Michigan’s ‘disaster’ of an unemployment agency
The announcement comes on the heels of Michigan sending letters to 648,000 claimants, demanding they fill out paperwork or be subject to having to pay their benefits back.
The Unemployment Insurance Agency made a mistake in allowing people to claim federal unemployment for four unapproved reasons.
RELATED: Michigan mistake means up to 650,000 could be forced to repay unemployment benefits
State law says the UIA can’t claw back benefits if they were paid out due to a state administrative error – but the state plans to re-evaluate past claims if people don’t fill out the new paperwork within 20 days. The UIA has ignored this law in the past, said Rachael Kohl, director of the Workers’ Rights Legal Clinic at Michigan United, who’s heard from many panicked claimants in recent days. In the spring, the UIA demanded money back from disabled claimants who were only available for part-time work, not full-time jobs.
“The UIA is a disaster and there needs to be leadership changes now,” Johnson said.
The agency has had trouble deciphering honest claimants from fraudsters. Many deserving people have had their benefits held hostage for weeks or months while many crooked claims slip through.
Earlier this month, investigators caught a UIA employee who had been allegedly claiming unemployment for herself and helping criminals steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the system. Another UIA employee was caught helping to allegedly steal $3.8 million from the program.
The UIA estimated in December that it paid out “hundreds of millions” of dollars to fraudsters in 2020. Altogether, Michigan has paid out $36.7 billion in total benefits during the pandemic, with $31 billion of that coming from temporary federal programs.
Whitmer signs ‘historic’ K-12 spending plan
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a $17.1 billion school aid budget Tuesday to bring “comprehensive student recovery” to schools as they emerge from the pandemic.
Joined by education advocates and several students from Kentwood Public Schools, Whitmer signed House Bill 4411 Tuesday at East Kentwood High School in Grand Rapids.
State leaders are calling it the largest education investment in Michigan’s history.
Read more: Whitmer signs $17 billion K-12 spending bill aimed at closing school funding gap
The bill aims to close the funding gap between the highest- and lowest-funded school districts, a goal the state has been working to accomplish since the passage of Proposal A in 1994, which established the current system in which school districts get per-pupil payments from the state.
“Every student deserves to be funded at the same level to ensure an equal opportunity to succeed. I am proud to say that we are able to do that today,” Whitmer said.
The bill, which totals $17.1 billion including $85.4 million from the state’s general fund, boosts funding for K-12 education by 10% compared to the current budget. Under the bill, $723 million will ensure school districts across Michigan get the same baseline funding of $8,700 per-pupil.
It marks an increase of $589 per pupil from the current-year minimum amount. In addition, intermediate school districts will receive a 4% operational funding increase.
Upgraded textbooks, facilities, new sports equipment are expected to be just some of what districts will be able to purchase with the new budget.
“You’ve heard me say we need ‘comprehensive student recovery,’ again and again. We want students to thrive academically, mentally, emotionally, physically,” Whitmer said.
Biden declares disaster after Metro Detroit floods
President Joe Biden on Thursday approved Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s request for a major disaster declaration after parts of the state experienced flooding on June 25th and 26th.
The declaration paves the way for federal assistance to flow into Washtenaw and Wayne counties. Residents can apply for assistance such as grants for temporary housing or home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
To get started in applying for assistance, residents and business owners in those two counties who sustained losses can register online at http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. Those phone numbers are in operation from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. every day.
Read more: President Joe Biden declares disaster after Michigan flooding
“President Biden’s declaration opens up critical resources to help Michigan residents recover from this disaster,” said Whitmer in a statement.
“The flooding on June 25-26 had devastating impacts on Wayne and Washtenaw County residents who suffered damage to their homes, loss of personal property, and faced unimaginable stress. With the resources we will receive thanks to President Biden’s leadership, we will put Michiganders first and help our communities recover and rebuild.”
Whitmer had requested a major disaster declaration for Michigan, citing damage from severe storms, tornadoes and flooding in Huron, Ionia, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.
A press release from the White House said damage assessments are ongoing in other areas, and more counties or forms of assistance may be added after those assessments are completed.
First winners of vaccine sweepstakes announced
Amber Berger, a registered nurse from New Baltimore, won $50,000 as part of the MI Shot to Win Sweepstakes, aimed at increasing the number of people vaccinated against COVID-19.
University of Michigan Softball Coach Carol Hutchins announced Berger as the first winner of the state lottery at a July 14 virtual press conference.
Adrienne Peterson of Southfield, Christopher Ackerman of Detroit and Larita Lee of Wyoming also were presented as $50,000 winners.
Both Ackerman and Berger made recorded statements. “I understand that it is a scary thing to let something new into your body but if it is going to help protect one person as well as yourself and your family why not do it?” Berger said.
Her husband Andrew, a Roseville police lieutenant, was sick and in the hospital with COVID-19 and her close friend and co-worker is still suffering effects of the virus, she said. “I saw so many horrific things just working in the COVID units with it,” said Berger, vaccinated at Henry Ford Hospital in Clinton Township.
She did not know of the sweepstakes at the time, but was motivated by an upcoming trip to Mexico and “also to help keep everyone safe.”
Hutchins said Ackerman, vaccinated July 3, was tired of wearing a mask, “which we can all appreciate.”
Chris Ackerman of Detroit, vaccinated on July 3, won $50,000 as part of the MI Shot to Win Sweepstakes. He spoke by video at a virtual press conference Wednesday, July 14, recorded by the Protect Michigan Commission.
Read more: Nurse, retired GM factory worker among four sweepstakes winners announced today
He does not have immediate plans for the money. “This just all came as a surprise. I am happy I got vaccinated,” he said.
As of Wednesday, about 1.8 million people had entered the sweepstakes and more than 80,300 young residents registered for a scholarship drawing. More than 181,000 entered in three days this week.
Michigan health departments have not reported a noticeable bump in vaccination numbers since the governor announced the $5 million MI Shot to Win sweepstakes on July 1.
Read more: Public health workers do not report rise in vaccinations since Michigan sweepstakes launch
“We were at a trickle before the lottery and we are at a trickle after the lottery,” said Dr. Robert Lorinser, medical director of the Marquette County Health Department in the Upper Peninsula. He reported “zero” impact.
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