Michigan House and Senate approve COVID-19 bills, send plan to Whitmer

In a legislating session that went on well after most of Michigan had gone to bed, lawmakers passed a number of bills aimed at filling gaps in coronavirus relief and protection left open following a repeal of the governor's executive orders.

The legislation targeted extending unemployment benefits, increasing liability protection for health care providers offering services during the COVID-19 outbreak, and reversing a nursing home policy that allowed elderly patients infected with the virus to be placed in facilities where non-infected patients were located. 

The midnight rush of lawmaking follows more than a week of uncertainty regarding the status of executive declarations made by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during Michigan's state of emergency. Following a repeal by the state Supreme Court of the 1945 emergency law that Whitmer had used to made new orders, the governor has sought other avenues for enforcing her policies.

 Among the most pressing issues for voters were the presence of funds for unemployed workers. The state had previously boosted benefits for workers affected by the pandemic. Under the bills approved early Wednesday morning, unemployment benefits would be extended for 26 more weeks to about 380,000 residents.

The Senate also approved rules that would allow municipalities like local governments and public schools to conduct meetings electronically. Meanwhile, in the House, lawmakers extended the expiration deadline for Michigan driver's licenses and vehicle registrations until Dec. 31, 2020.

RELATED: Michigan Supreme Court strikes down Whitmer's virus orders; Gov. fires back

The GOP-led chambers spent much of Tuesday negotiating with the Whitmer administration, a process that's been sparse over the spring and summer months. Tempers between the two bodies have flared as the governor defied Republican wishes and extended the state of emergency in Michigan. 

The law Whitmer used to extend that emergency was ultimately ruled unconstitutional on Oct. 2, which automatically voided any orders made under the law.

While the state health department did reinstate some rules like the mask mandate in public spaces, many other rules were left out.