As virus cases surge, state Senate opts to curb restrictions

A divided Michigan Senate on Tuesday again sought to limit state pandemic restrictions, voting to let all family members attend an athlete’s sporting event and large families eat at a restaurant table.

The Republican-sponsored legislation was approved 20-15 on party lines and sent to the GOP-led House at a time COVID-19 cases are surging. The measure also would prohibit the state health director from issuing an order to cap residential gatherings, bar high school graduation ceremonies or prevent people from traveling between multiple properties.

A current edict says no more than six patrons can be seated at a table in a food service establishment. A maximum of 15 people from three households can gather indoors at residences. Outdoor residential gatherings are limited to 50 people.

The state Department of Health and Human Services has recommended, but not required, that spectators be limited to two per athlete. Total capacity is capped at 375 for most arenas.

Such restrictions have "had a huge impact on the mental wellness of many people during this pandemic," said the bill sponsor, Republican Sen. Michael MacDonald of Macomb Township. "Families of all sizes deserve equal treatment by their government."

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declined to comment on the bill, which was passed the same day senators narrowly let stand the January appointment of Elizabeth Hertel as DHHS director.

The governor previously vetoed other measures that would have curbed her administration’s authority to control the coronavirus. They included bills that would have required legislative approval to extend orders beyond 28 days and ceded the state Department of Health and Human Services’ ability to close schools and ban sports solely to local health departments.

Whitmer, whose administration has gradually eased restrictions in recent months, has said she will not surrender powers she needs to save lives.

The House could consider the legislation in April, after returning from a two-week spring break that will begin later this week.