Michigan has garnered national attention for the policies — both good and bad — that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has enacted under her emergency powers to address the COVID-19 crisis. Throughout the pandemic, the Mackinac Center has provided guidance and recommendations to her administration and legislative leaders, which can immediately address the public health challenge and serve as a roadmap for economic recovery.
We’ve also been there when the administration’s gotten it wrong, and rather than say, “We told you so,” the Mackinac Center has provided a clear path back to ideas that are good for all Michiganders.
As Gov. Whitmer began to assess policy reforms that could be carried out by executive order following her emergency declaration, we began to educate legislative leaders and her administration. Our focus has been on changes that could have the most impact — both in the immediate and long term — and were sound policy reforms in either good or bad times.
Shortly after we began these conversations with policymakers, the governor issued a series of healthcare-specific policy reforms through executive orders, drawing straight from the Mackinac Center playbook. Over the ensuing weeks, she would go on to veto a number of pork-spending items in the state budget, embracing Mackinac’s suggestions that government spending be limited to providing for essential services.
Here are the policy changes inspired by the Mackinac Center that have been enacted to address the COVID-19 crisis:
Health Care Reform
Suspend state certificate-of-need (CON) laws. These rules require health care providers to seek a permission slip from an unelected state board before expanding critical capacities and services, such as adding more hospital beds, intensive care units, or acquiring imaging technology.
Loosen scope-of-practice restrictions on medical personnel. Scope-of-practice regulations have limited medical professionals from providing care to the full extent of their training. Loosening these restrictions increases the number of qualified providers available to patients and increases patient access to critical care. The new provisions allow for a number of nursing professionals to provide additional levels of patient care, and pharmacists to aid patients with maintenance-of-health efforts like point-of-care testing, updated vaccinations and screenings for influenza and strep.
Grant Relief to Certain Licensing Restrictions on Medical Personnel. State licensing laws govern a multitude of industry professionals, and they can sometimes be barriers to entry for new or out-of-state professionals. They also can keep some professionals from continuing their work, and in response to the pandemic, the governor approved a number of changes. These emergency licensing reforms gave immediate certification to advanced medical students, allowed for automatic renewal of lapsed licenses, and suspended continuing education requirements and fees for medical professionals to keep their licenses current. They also allowed for licensed medical practitioners from outside the state, whose licenses are in good standing, to treat Michigan patients.
Through regulatory action and in a separate order, the governor also expanded access to telemedicine, allowing patients to visit their doctor via webcam, thereby lightening the load at health facilities.
With the support of lawmakers, the governor used her line-item veto power to reject $80 million in nonessential spending, including spending on a number of programs the Mackinac Center has long suggested are a waste of taxpayer dollars. These spending vetoes include:
$36.2 million of grants to individual projects which should be paid for with local dollars, including such items as $250,000 for an arts center in Bay Harbor and $500,000 for a breakfast program in Oakland County
$16 million in funding for the state’s tourism advertising campaign, Pure Michigan. Michiganders should not be paying millions for a tourist program, especially when individual travel is restricted.
Even though most state residents initially supported the shelter-in-place policy, some people started to debate whether the ways it has been implemented are reasonable. As Gov. Whitmer and legislative leaders continued to debate the scope of her emergency powers and how to implement them, the Mackinac Center worked with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to develop principles that policymakers should consider.
Here is an edited version of our joint statement:
Public Health First: Policymakers’ number one priority should be to protect the public health while remembering that productive, rewarding work is a key to our physical and mental well-being. The state should focus on public safety and helping businesses create safe workplaces as soon as possible. Businesses that can responsibly using recognized safety protocols should be allowed to do so.
We Must Live With Risk: Every day, millions of Michiganders take countless risks to their health and safety — driving vehicles, working around the house, eating out. These are risks we are comfortable taking regularly, and eliminating all of them is not a realistic goal. Michigan’s economic recovery must start even in the face of some risk.
This Emergency is Temporary: Even though the emergency declaration Gov. Whitmer issued was necessary, the Legislature retains an important voice in the debate and should evaluate the current and future orders, consistent with its powers. In addition, lawmakers and interested parties should thoroughly review the emergency powers in statute and improve them to better address future crises.
Consistency and Clarity: Policymakers will have to make many important decisions in the near future. They should strive for consistency and clarity, as these decisions will affect entrepreneurs, job providers and their employees. None of these decisions are easy, but businesses will be better able to adjust if the government’s expectations of them are clear and follow a predictable logic.
Transparency: The law grants the governor extraordinary power during a time of crisis, but that should not diminish the responsibility the government has to be transparent. Policymakers should openly explain their decisions and the supporting rationale. They should not single out certain industries and businesses for special treatment in the recovery. Nearly every business has been affected in some way, and recovery policies should apply as broadly as possible.
The Economic Recovery
Economic Growth and Public Health Go Hand-in-Hand: There is no need to sacrifice public health for economic growth, and it’s important to remember that economic downturns harm public health, too. Policymakers need to recognize this fact when crafting policies for the emergency and the recovery.
A Limited Role for Government: While policymakers can provide important support and guidance, they should view their role in the recovery as a limited one. It will be Michigan’s entrepreneurs and hard-working employees who will ultimately rebuild Michigan’s economy. Recovery plans should not be focused on expanding government’s reach or creating new government departments.
Focus on the Fundamentals: Full economic recovery will require creating a fertile environment for new businesses to start and for existing firms to create new jobs. This should be the primary focus of state aid and policy in the recovery: Promote free enterprise, entrepreneurship and new job creation.