The Michigan House of Representatives voted this week to approve a bill that would bar the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration from levying fines against several businesses accused of breaking COVID-19 emergency rules.
The bill would prevent the department from imposing a civil penalty on a business if the violation was its first and the business has taken action to correct it.
Additionally, the bill would protect businesses that have been or will be fined based on an executive order from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer if that order is found to be unconstitutional or is otherwise voided by the Michigan Supreme Court. In such cases, the department must reimburse the business for the fine, should the measure become law.
The vote came several days after Whitmer was caught violating an emergency rule by gathering with a group larger than six people inside a restaurant.
The Lansing bar where the governor convened with friends wasn’t fined. Linda Vail, the health officer for Ingham County, told news outlets that the county’s health department doesn’t levy fines unless an establishment has multiple violations.
State Rep. Timothy Beson, a Republican who sponsored the bill, alluded to the situation in a floor speech.
“Some businesses, as recently as last weekend, have been given grace for breaking certain rules. But it should not take an act of forgiveness for that to happen, it should be a law,” he said.
State Rep. Steve Johnson, a Republican, said that some businesses have been fined as much as $6,300.
“Now, to me, instead of fining businesses, we should try to work with them, to try to make sure that we’re not trying to put them out of business,” he said.
Johnson said if a restaurant in his district broke the six-person gathering limit, it would have been fined thousands of dollars.
“The good news for this individual is she happens to be the governor of Michigan. No fines, no citations, no penalties. Must be nice. Colleagues, the question before you today is: Should the businesses in our district get the same treatment as the governor? That’s all I’m asking,” he said.
No opponents of the bill spoke on the floor.
The House passed the bill 74–34, with multiple Democrats supporting the legislation.
It has been transmitted to the state Senate and referred to the upper chamber’s economic panel for consideration.