State lawmakers unable to control COVID, even among themselves

Michigan's House and Senate have rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but lack of buy-in makes it hard to control.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, at least nine lawmakers in Lansing have contracted the coronavirus, leading to one death – Rep. Isaac Robinson, D-Detroit. In the past week, three lawmakers have tested positive for the virus. The rate of coronavirus spread among lawmakers is nearly twice what it is in the rest of the state.

The state capitol has rules for preventing the spread of COVID-19 among its members, but an article on MLive indicates a lack of buy-in is making them hard to enforce.

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Doug Simon, the business director for the House Business Office said they follow CDC guidelines when it comes to the virus, but they have no authority to enforce the rules among elected representatives.

“We have mask requirements for staff, obviously, because they are employees and we can require that of them,” he said. “Ultimately, whether an elected member of the House wears a mask or not is not something I can control.”

Why it matters: The Republican-led House and Senate have consistently rejected efforts to pass legislation to control the spread of COVID-19. That’s happening as case numbers continue to rise within the state. Some lawmakers have outright refused to wear masks or take other precautions against the virus.

“Leaders lead by example,” said University of Michigan political communications professor Josh Pasek. “When they fail to do so, or aren’t providing the right scaffolding for people to make the right decisions, a lot of people are going to make decisions on lesser bases.”

Legislative impact: Legislative leaders have been critical of the governor’s efforts to control COVID-19. When the state’s health department issued new orders on Sunday that shut down restaurants, in-person classes, and large group gatherings for three weeks, they complained of being left out of the process.

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey criticized the governor for “going it alone.” Meanwhile, the legislature has yet to vote on any plans to address the ongoing surge.

A package of bills, announced by Republican lawmakers in October, is meant to give more control over prevention measures to local governments. Nearly a month later, it is still being being considered by a committee while the state legislature has gone on break.

Linda Vail is the public health director for Ingham County, which includes Lansing. She told MLive she hopes to see more cooperation on combating the virus.

“We need to get at the hearts and minds of leaders who are sending out messages to people. We need to get them to say, ‘We support this,’” she said.

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