Lansing Capitol

Four Michigan State Police officers secure the front of the Capitol on Jan. 13, 2021 in preparation for possible weekend protests.

(The Center Square) – The Michigan Senate approved along party lines a bill that aims link COVID-19 data to reopening restaurant and event centers.

SB 250, passed Thursday, seeks to tie reopening rules to COVID-19 case positivity rates, mirroring a package pitched by the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association (MRLA).

Currently, restaurants are operating at 50% capacity, an 11 p.m. curfew, and mask- and contact-tracing mandates.

Under the bill, any positivity rate greater than 20% for 14 consecutive days would result in an indoor dining and meetings prohibition.

A test positivity rate between 15% and 20% for seven consecutive days would force indoor dining to close and limit capacity to 10 individuals from not more than two households.

A positivity rate between 10% and 15% up to seven days would allow 25% capacity with only seated dining and limit occupancy to 15 individuals per 1,000 square feet with a maximum of 50 individuals for indoor events and a maximum of 150 individuals for outdoor events.

A rate between 7% and 10% would allow half capacity and only allow customers to eat in designated, seated dining areas.

For a test positivity rate between 3% and 7% over seven consecutive days, the emergency order would limit the indoor dining occupancy rate to 50% and limit the food and beverage consumption to a designated seated dining area.

If the seven-day daily average positivity rate stayed below 3% for 14 days, there would be no limitations on restaurants or hotel and banquet centers.

Michigan currently has a case positivity rate of 7.9%.

Sen. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, says the bill is a lifeline to Michigan restaurants after more than 3,000 permanently closed in 2020.

“We’ve been told that we needed a couple of weeks to flatten the curve, then we’re told we needed to stay home, so hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. We’re told to wear masks and social distance. The people of Michigan complied,” Bumstead said in a floor speech.

“Now our restaurants and event centers are begging for a lifeline to survive," he continued. "They aren’t asking for handouts or special treatment; they’re asking to know what the rules of the game are so they can put forth a plan for their customers. The state of Michigan owes them...transparency regarding the metrics that are controlling the fate of their businesses.”

Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, pointed out the bill doesn’t require a mask mandate or contact tracing.

“This bill is just another effort that’s woefully short of what’s needed to protect public health,” Moss said on the floor.

Sen. Horn, R-Frankenmuth, said businesses need certainty after a year of restrictions so they don’t waste more inventory.

"We’re not getting the science,” Horn said in a speech. “We’re not getting the data. We’re just getting lip service.”

MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow celebrated the bill's passing.

“We appreciate the effort of Sen. Bumstead and his colleagues to secure transparency and accountability for restaurant operators that still have no guidance on decisions that affect their very livelihood," Winslow said in a statement. "Unlike other states that pursued a second shutdown of restaurants, Michigan stands alone as the only state without a metric-driven plan to fully reintegrate its economy.  The need is obvious and the request is reasonable, but to achieve success Governor Whitmer will have to engage and the Republican majorities in the legislature will have to compromise.  The MRLA is committed to work towards this outcome.”

Republicans have alleged Whitmer’s restaurant restrictions aren’t driven by data after a “three-week pause” on indoor dining turned into a 75-day shutdown, even as COVID-19 metrics at that time met every benchmark set by the state health department.

The bill package follows after all of Michigan’s neighboring states have dropped statewide restaurant capacity limits. Indiana will drop its mask mandate on April 6.

The bill moves to the House, where if it’s passed, it will likely be vetoed by Whitmer.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.