Michigan’s Legislature is closed after a critic of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s pandemic protections was diagnosed with the coronavirus.
LANSING, MI — Michigan’s Republican-controlled Legislature, which has opposed attempts to curb the spread of the pandemic coronavirus, will be closed due to the coronavirus.
State Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) tested positive for the coronavirus as part of the regular screenings he has as a member of the Michigan Army National Guard. As a result of his diagnosis Sunday, the Legislature suspended all sessions and hearings for the week beginning Aug. 3.
“Thankfully I do not have any significant symptoms at this time, and I will be self-isolating according to medical guidelines,” Barrett said in a statement. “I have done my best to make contact with those I have been around in the past couple weeks so that they may also seek medical advice. I look forward to resuming my normal work schedule as quickly as possible.”
Barrett is the third known Michigan state legislator — and first state senator — with a confirmed coronavirus case. A fourth, Democratic Rep. Isaac Robinson of Detroit, likely died of COVID-19 in March, though he was not tested for it, his mother said.
Barrett sponsored a bill in April that would repeal a law that has given Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer broad emergency powers to act unilaterally during the pandemic, a law which the Legislature has also sued the governor in an attempt to deem it unconstitutional.
Michigan Republicans have also pushed issues like resuming in-person education. One controversial part of the plan approved by House Republicans would require districts to offer the option of in-person instruction to kids in kindergarten through fifth grade. Several schools have already announced plans to begin the academic year solely with remote teaching. The governor’s road map for reopening schools allows, but does not require, in-person instruction.
The legislature was expected to vote on that alongside other school reopening packages Thursday.
“The Senate will cancel committees and session for this week, August 3-7, to allow adequate time for execution of protocols and receipt of results for individuals who choose to be tested,” Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake) said in a statement. “We all wish Senator Barrett a speedy recovery.”
Shirkey encouraged all members of the legislature to get tested for the coronavirus during that time.
Despite Barett’s infection, he remains against the pandemic protections implemented by Gov. Whitmer during the crisis.
“How we govern our state is not something that should change based on someone’s unique circumstances, like mine,” Barrett said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press.
Gov. Whitmer has contended that the law from which she draws authority to act in emergencies doesn’t require the legislature’s continued approval, but certain aspects like liability protections granted under a different emergency powers law did expire.
“By refusing to extend the emergency and disaster declaration, Republican lawmakers are putting their heads in the sand and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk,” she said at the time.
Barrett, at the time, said that pandemic protections hurt the economy and violated the separation of powers, so he supported the efforts to sue the governor and force an end to the pandemic emergency.
“The governor continues to disregard the constitutional separation of power by extending emergency declarations unilaterally,” Barrett said in a statement. “The Legislature most closely represents the voice of the people, but apparently the governor is not interested in hearing the concerns of Michiganders. It should offend everyone that a governor wants to control power for as long as she chooses.”
Michigan residents, as The ‘Gander reported, have widely favored Gov. Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic. Continued polling by Lake Effect shows this to still hold true. For instance, the most recent data reported by Lake Effect shows 55% of Michiganders prefer Gov. Whitmer’s leadership on the coronavirus to President Donald Trump’s.
Barrett claims he followed rigorous masking and disinfecting protocols, and was seen wearing a face covering in multiple committee hearings.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.