GOP Leadership Pushes For Lifting of All Mandates in Wake of Mask Mandate Lift
News late last week that Michigan is lifting mask requirements for vaccinated people in all settings brought a flurry of reactions, most calling on the Governor to remove all remaining restrictions.

"A few weeks ago, Michigan finally rejected the old, failed path of one-size-fits-all mandates and restrictions that took away people’s jobs, schools and critical services," said House Speaker Jason Wentworth in a press release.

"But even after today’s announcement, we are still a few steps behind other states around the country that have trusted their local residents and enjoyed better health outcomes," he said. Wentworth urged the Governor to "keep going" and allow "everyone to go back to work and return to their normal lives."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced last week that, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, "fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting," except where required to by federal, state, local laws, rules, and workplace regulations.

Outdoors, no one will have to wear a mask. Indoors, those not vaccinated or who haven’t completed vaccination should still wear masks.

After July 1, the broad indoor mask mandate will expire, according to the press release. 

Wentworth called for the July 1 expiration to be moved up.

"There is no science that says July 1 is a safer date to stop wearing a mask than any other day; it is just a round number on the calendar. Let’s move it up sooner, embrace the strategy of trust that’s working right now and move Michigan past this pandemic," Wentworth said.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said he’s pleased the CDC and Michigan have gotten in alignment with the current science, but today’s decision "begs more questions than it answers."

For starters, how does the Governor reconcile the actions still being taken by her administration, in particular the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) workplace rules related to COVID-19 safety?

"The temporary rules were initially put in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep people safe," said President Pro Tem Aric Nesbitt. "It’s now one year later and businesses have made major investments in safety equipment to create a safe atmosphere for both employees and patrons."

Nesbitt said the second extension of the rules currently expires in October, but the agency has announced it is taking steps to make them permanent. He said it is "time we ease some of these burdens on businesses rather than considering making them long-term policy."

Sen. John Bizon and Sen. Curt Vanderwall also called for input on the MIOSHA rules.

"This is a clear case of government overreach on the part of the Whitmer administration," Bizon said. "It is absurd to think that once the coronavirus pandemic is behind us and the threat is gone, we should continue to follow rules put in place in response to the crisis."

Rep. Andrew Fink said the Governor’s decision-making throughout the pandemic "has made a mockery of self-government."

"While I am pleased to see common-sense changes being made to our state’s mask mandates today, it is clear the Governor is simply aligning with the Biden administration and continues to use the pandemic as a means of advancing her own political standings," Fink said. "Just two weeks ago, Gov. Whitmer required two-year-old children to wear masks. Today, she has taken an entirely new position on masks."

Others reacted as well. Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA), said the lifting of the mandate will create conflict and confusion "between patrons and hospitality employees." The next step is to get MIOSHA and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on the same page, he said.

"MIOSHA needs to update their workplace safety rules that contradict with the new MDHHS order and CDC guidelines," he said.

Until MIOSHA updates these rules, all employees must still wear masks in the workplace.

"Right now, employers are caught in a bad spot and MIOSHA needs to step up," Ellis said.

The Saginaw Transit Authority Regional Services (STARS) announced it will still require passengers to wear masks while riding.

"While I applaud this progress, I ask the community to respect our drivers and riders, continue to be safe, and mask up on all public transportation services even when fully vaccinated," said Glenn Steffens, STARS executive director.

He said the CDC, Transportation Security Administration and Homeland Security have not changed mask rules or recommendations for public transit.

The State Court Administrative Office also announced today they are the keeping the use of face coverings and social distancing in place in all Michigan courts.

Nonprofit Paid for Whitmer’s Florida Trip
A nonprofit set up to cover the costs of the transition process between the time Governor Gretchen Whitmer won election in 2018 and took office about seven weeks later paid almost $27,000 to cover the cost of a chartered flight for Ms. Whitmer to visit her ailing father in Florida, the governor’s office disclosed Friday.

Ms. Whitmer has been under scrutiny for the past month over her trip to Florida between March 12-15.

Much of that criticism appears to contradict the facts of what happened. Republicans have claimed Ms. Whitmer showed hypocrisy in traveling to Florida but there were no travel restrictions in place at the time and the state had only started to see a rise in coronavirus cases at that point. Additionally, while Ms. Whitmer had expressed "concern" about spring break travel to Florida, there is a big difference between the typical break scene and going to care for an ailing relative.

Further, Department of Health and Human Services guidance advising against travel did not come for another three weeks, in early April.

However, the one question that had appeared resonant was how Ms. Whitmer got to Florida. A week ago, Deadline Detroit first reported that Ms. Whitmer had flown aboard a high-end jet owned by some of the state’s top business executives – PVS Chemical Co-Chair Jim Nicholson, Ambassador Bridge owner Matthew Moroun and the Cotton family. Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Moroun own companies heavily regulated and permitted by state government.

Ms. Whitmer for some time had attempted to dodge questions, only saying the flight was not a gift and not paid for at taxpayer expense, and even said a couple times she had said all she was going to say on the topic.

Friday appeared an acknowledgement that failing to explain how she covered the cost of an expensive flight was untenable.

In a memo to Executive Office staff, Chief of Staff JoAnne Huls said "we made a decision" because of ongoing security and public health concerns to use a chartered flight. At the time of the trip, Ms. Whitmer had not been vaccinated. And she has been the subject of many death threats, one of which resulted in criminal charges. There’s also the extensive federal charges against men who plotted to kidnap her.

The cost for the flight was $27,521. Ms. Whitmer paid $855 of that for the cost of her seat.

Paying for the trip was the nonprofit fund Michigan Transition 2019, which the memo said "defrays the cost of the governor’s travel when it’s consistent with the account’s purposes and not covered by taxpayers." This was an account set up to cover the cost of the transition. Now called the Executive Office Account, it has accepted money from corporations, other nonprofits and associations.

"Given the extraordinary and ongoing threats to the life and safety of the governor and her family, we do not generally comment on the governor’s personal schedule. However, I fully expect Republican party officials will continue to make political attacks against the governor and her family, so I wanted you to have the facts," Ms. Huls said. "As chief of staff, I acknowledge we could have done a better job of answering questions about this trip with more clarity while also balancing the need to protect the governor’s security, and for that I take responsibility."

Ms. Huls also said the health of Ms. Whitmer’s father, Dick Whitmer, "deteriorated" after she returned to Michigan. His physicians at the University of Michigan asked him to return to Michigan, where he has a residence in East Lansing, to be re-evaluated. Ms. Whitmer personally took her father to Ann Arbor on Monday, where he underwent a procedure to start intravenous antibiotics. The procedure was successful, Ms. Huls said.

One of the immediate questions raised in the aftermath of the disclosure, which had all the hallmarks of a Friday news dump coming late in the afternoon, was whether the cost of Ms. Whitmer’s travel for an ostensibly personal trip was an acceptable use of the nonprofit. The governor has said she worked while in Florida.

In her memo, Ms. Huls said the Executive Office Account "defrays the cost of the governor’s travel when it’s consistent with the account’s purposes and not covered by taxpayers." She also said payment was "done in compliance with the law."

Republicans, however, questioned that assertion.

"This is not a legitimate expenditure for a 501(c)4," said Chris Gustafson of the Republican Governors Association.

Tori Sachs of the conservative super PAC Michigan Rising Action said, "There is no legal theory where reimbursing $800 for a $27,000 flight solves anything. Whitmer’s use of her 501(c)4 account funds must be investigated."

Internet Sports Betting Drops Significantly After March Madness
Internet sports betting operators handled $249.9 million in April, more than $100 million less than in March, a predictable scenario given the NCAA basketball tournament that took place last month was a boon for the new industry.

Internet gaming operators in Michigan reported $94.85 million in internet gaming gross receipts for April. Internet sports betting operators received $20.38 million in total gross sports betting receipts and reported a total handle of $249.9 million for the month.

"While the sports betting handle dropped 30-plus percent, which we expected the month after March Madness, internet casino gaming adjusted gross receipts held steady with a slight two-tenths of a percent increase in April," Michigan Gaming Control Board Executive Director Richard Kalm said in a statement.

Taxes and payments are based on adjusted gross receipts, which were $88.87 million for internet gaming and $10.88 million for internet sports betting during April. Adjusted gross receipts include deductions for the monetary value of free play incentives provided to and wagered by bettors. The operators delivered approximately $18.1 million in taxes and payments to the state of Michigan for April.

For internet gaming, the state receives 70 percent of the total tax from the commercial operators and 80 percent of the total payment from tribal operators. The tax and payment rate ranges from 20 percent to 28 percent based on annual adjusted gross receipts.

For internet sports betting, commercial operators pay 70 percent of the 8.4 percent tax to the state and 30 percent to the city of Detroit. Tribal operators make an 8.4 percent payment to the state on adjusted gross sports betting receipts.

The three Detroit casinos reported city wagering taxes and municipal services fees of $5.4 million for April with $5.2 million in internet gaming taxes and fees and $186,939 in internet sports betting taxes and fees. Tribal operators reported $1.8 million of wagering payments to the tribes’ governing bodies.


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