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Michigan businesses could escape COVID-19 fines under bill

Novel coronavirus graphic
PBS
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Novel coronavirus COVID-19

The bill approved Tuesday by the Senate now heads to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

A bill that would allow businesses fined for violating emergency orders during the COVID-19 pandemic to get refunds and bar the state from issuing such fines under certain conditions cleared the Michigan Legislature on Tuesday.

The bill approved Tuesday by the Senate now heads to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Some of the language in the bill emphasizes the unconstitutionality of Whitmer’s past emergency orders. Her use of a 1945 law in her emergency orders during the pandemic was deemed unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court last October.

The Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Administration wouldn’t be able to assess a penalty for violating an emergency order under the bill if the fine meets all of these criteria: If the emergency order addresses COVID-19, if the business had no prior violations and if the business made an effort to correct the violation.

Business owners who retroactively fit all the criteria would get reimbursed. MIOSHA has collected about $250,000 in pandemic fines meeting the criteria and under the new legislation would not collect an additional $500,000 in fines that haven’t been paid, according to Senate Fiscal Agency analysis.

Whitmer’s administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

State Sen. Dan Lauwers said Whitmer issued new orders frequently, and businesses and local governments did their best to find the resources to comply while keeping their doors open.

“The governor should have dropped every fine levied by her agency during the pandemic and she should have done so months ago,” the St. Clair County Republican said.