Return to Learn plan signed into law
Our bipartisan plan helping students get back to school safely – with flexibility to allow in-person, online, or hybrid instruction methods based on local needs – has been signed into law.
The legislation will allow local school districts to determine the best course of action for their own students and families. In-person attendance is not state-mandated at any grade level, but it’s strongly encouraged for grades K-5 if it can be done safely. The plan also includes oversight measures to keep learning on track, and also provides additional financial support.
Highlights of the plan include:
• Local control. Working with local health departments, school districts will continue to decide the best approach for instruction based on the specific situations and needs within their own communities.
• Accountability and oversight. School boards will be required to reexamine and recertify how they are delivering instruction to students at their monthly board meetings throughout the 2020-21 school year. This gives parents and community members a chance to voice concerns and spark modifications when necessary. Benchmark assessments will provide detailed information to parents and teachers about where a student needs additional help to ensure they stay on track.
• Financial support. The Legislature already approved a total of $583 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds to be dedicated to Michigan schools, including $350 per student across the board, ensuring schools have the resources they need during this difficult and unusual time. The funding includes more than $50 million in hazard pay for educators who have been flexible and innovative during the COVID-19 pandemic and $18 million for safety measures and benchmark assessments to ensure student learning stays on track.
Protecting job providers from frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits
A bipartisan plan recently introduced in the state House would protect schools and other Michigan job providers from becoming the target of frivolous lawsuits related to COVID-19.
Schools, businesses and non-profit organizations throughout Michigan have been hit hard by the coronavirus and the mandatory shutdowns it caused. As they begin the reopening process, many job providers are worried about the possibility of facing lawsuits if a visitor or employee claims to have contracted COVID-19 at their location.
In order to thrive, our state needs both healthy people and a healthy economy. A wave of frivolous lawsuits would devastate job providers who are already struggling financially. We must create an environment where local schools, employers and other entities can reopen safely and responsibly without being vulnerable to unwarranted lawsuits.
Under our plan, Michigan job providers will not be held liable if someone claims to have been exposed to COVID-19 on their property unless they are found to be grossly negligent. Job providers complying with federal and state regulations, executive orders and public health guidance would not be held liable for a COVID-19 claim. Additionally, employees who follow state and federal guidelines will be protected from retribution for following COVID-related protocols.
House Bills 6030-32 and 6101 have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.
COVID-19 Committee calls for UIA audit
To improve service for unemployed Michiganders, keep residents’ personal information safe and stop costly fraud, state legislators are calling for the Auditor General’s Office to look into how the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) processes claims and handles security and staffing procedures.
The request comes as the agency has repeatedly failed Michiganders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 2.5 million people have filed for unemployment since the pandemic and resulting executive orders began, and there have been many instances of UIA claiming citizens had been helped when they were not. Additionally, there is a criminal investigation involving a multi-million-dollar fraud case and serious concerns about UIA’s potentially inadequate security protocols.
Michigan residents who lost jobs through no fault of their own deserve an efficient unemployment system so they can provide basic needs for their families. Unfortunately, there have been massive delays and terrible customer service experiences for thousands of people. The UIA repeatedly touts having fixed problems, only for us to discover these bureaucratic blunders continue, so the Auditor General needs to investigate in order for state government to be better prepared in the future.
Many citizens report tremendous difficulty communicating with UIA. In addition, a former state employee who was charged in July with committing $2 million in unemployment insurance fraud continued to have access to her state-provided computer after her termination and there is concern about further fraud.
The UIA’s communication has been severely lacking, particularly with people who lost their jobs and needed a paycheck to feed their family and pay their bills. The agency has told legislators that problems are being taken care of, but I regularly hear from people who had to wait eight or 10 weeks for a response from the agency about their claims, and even longer for their situation to be resolved. The people of Michigan deserve an unemployment agency that provides good customer service for struggling families and takes smart actions to stop fraud.
Voting absentee is safe and easy
Michigan voters no longer need to give a reason to vote absentee.
To obtain an absentee ballot:
• Voters can request an absentee ballot by submitting an application, letter or postcard to their city or township clerk. People can identify their local clerk or download an absentee ballot application at Michigan.gov/Vote.
• Requests for absent voter ballots may be returned in person or via mail, fax or email. The voter’s signature must be visible.
• Once an absent voter ballot request is received, the clerk checks the signature on the request against the voter registration record before a ballot is issued.
• Requests to have an absent voter ballot mailed must be received by the clerk no later than 5 p.m. the Friday before an election. Voters can request an absentee ballot in person the day before the election or on Election Day. In these cases, people can vote the ballot in the clerk’s office to ensure it is received.
Returning an absentee ballot:
• After receiving an absent voter ballot, voters have until 8 p.m. on Election Day to complete the ballot and return it to the clerk’s office. After completing their ballot, the voter must sign the ballot envelope before returning it to the clerk. A ballot will not be counted unless the signature on the return envelope matches the voter’s signature on file with the clerk.
• Voters who are concerned about mailed absentee ballots reaching their city or township clerk in time are encouraged to return their ballots in person.
• Most clerks’ offices provide secure drop boxes to return ballots if a voter is unable to drop it off during normal business hours.
Spoiling an absent voter ballot:
• If a person has already returned their absentee ballot and wishes to change their vote, the voter can spoil their ballot by submitting a written request to the local clerk. The request must be signed and indicate whether the voter would like a new absentee ballot mailed to them or if they will vote at the polls.
• If mailed, this request must be received by 2 p.m. the Saturday before the election. An absentee ballot may be spoiled in person at the clerk’s office until 4 p.m. the Monday prior to the election. The voter can obtain a new absentee ballot there or vote at the polls.
• An absentee ballot received by the clerk cannot be spoiled on Election Day.
My Statement on Absentee Voting
State Government Resources
The Official State, County and City Government Website Locator:
Michigan Senate website: www.senate.michigan.gov
Michigan House of Representatives website: www.house.michigan.gov
Michigan Legislative Website: www.legislature.mi.gov
Unemployment Issues: If you are having issues connecting with the state unemployment office or receiving your unemployment benefits, please feel free to contact me at JulieAlexander@house.mi.gov. You may also find additional helpful information at the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency website: http://www.michigan.gov/uia/0,1607,7-118-26831—,00.html
Please continue to practice healthy habits like frequent hand washing, surface cleaning, and social distancing whenever possible. For the most reliable and timely information about COVID-19, visit www.michigan.gov/Coronavirus and www.CDC.gov/Coronavirus. Stay safe and stay healthy!