LANSING, Mich. (Dec. 13, 2021) – Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) have introduced legislation to protect the public’s health and ensure local governments can continue operating safely as Michigan faces another deadly wave of the coronavirus, which is being compounded by the recent arrival of the Omicron variant in the state.
Senate Bill 705 and House Bill 5608 would allow local governments to continue to conduct virtual meetings until March 31, 2022. The Michigan Legislature has amended the Open Meetings Act (OMA) multiple times during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for virtual meetings, however, on Dec. 31, 2021, the allowance of virtual meetings for a statewide or local state of emergency or state of disaster will end, and local governments will be required to meet in-person beginning Jan. 1, 2022.
“It’s a perfect storm for disaster. We have a highly contagious and deadly airborne virus and then we’re going to require all these people to pack into small town halls, and municipal buildings,” Sen. Irwin said. “That’s the quickest way to halt the work of local governments if there is an outbreak. Instead, we need to make sure local governments have the tools to keep themselves and their communities safe, and the flexibility to respond to local conditions.”
The last time the OMA was amended, virtual meetings were permitted for any reason through March 31, 2021. Then, after April 1, 2021, virtual meetings have been allowed to take place for any of the following three reasons:
- If a member is absent due to military duty;
- If a member has a medical condition preventing them from attending; or,
- If there is a statewide or local state of emergency or state of disaster.
On Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, Michigan reported 15,385 new COVID-19 cases and 351 virus-related deaths, with an average of 7,692.5 cases over a two-day period. The state also reported a 19.12% 7-day positive test rate that same day. Additionally, hospitalization rates continue to increase and are now at the highest point of the pandemic.
“During the course of this pandemic, local governments have shown they are able to virtually conduct business safely, efficiently, and effectively,” Rep. Carter said. “With the rise of cases and hospitalizations, there is no reason local officials need to risk their safety to go back to in-person meetings. We must do everything we can to combat the current COVID-19 surge and keep people safe. This common-sense legislation helps us reach that goal.”