Detroit Regional Chamber

COVID-19 Tele-Town Hall with MI House Speaker Lee Chatfield

April 06, 2020 Detroit Regional Chamber
Detroit Regional Chamber
COVID-19 Tele-Town Hall with MI House Speaker Lee Chatfield
Chapters
Detroit Regional Chamber
COVID-19 Tele-Town Hall with MI House Speaker Lee Chatfield
Apr 06, 2020
Detroit Regional Chamber

Michigan Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield discussed the state's response to the COVID-19 crisis and the resources available to businesses. Speaker Chatfield engaged in a one-on-one discussion with Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.


Show Notes Transcript

Michigan Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield discussed the state's response to the COVID-19 crisis and the resources available to businesses. Speaker Chatfield engaged in a one-on-one discussion with Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.


Sandy Baruah:

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the Detroit Regional Chamber's tele town hall series. We are very pleased that you have been able to join us and we appreciate the ongoing interest , uh, that you have in our elected officials hearing from them directly , uh, in this time of crisis and in this time of unprecedented , uh, health and economic challenge. Uh, two housekeeping things. First of all , uh, for all of you who have taken the time to join us on the phone , uh, please know that these sessions are recorded. After the session is completed, it will be available at the Detroit regional chamber website in the tele town hall series where you're able to download all of our past sessions as well as sign up for any of the upcoming sessions. Also, we welcome your questions. So if you have a question for today's very special guest , please go to the right hand side of your screen where you'll see a tab called questions. You can go ahead and type in your question there. My colleague and friend, Brad Williams, the vice president of government affairs for the Detroit regional chamber joins me on this call and he will be monitoring the questions as they come in and he will be asking the questions later on in this session of our special guest . And our special guest is today indeed a special guest. I am very pleased and honored , uh, to be able to bring the speaker of the house, Lee Chatfield to the Detroit regional chamber's tele town hall series. Speaker Chatfield was first elected in 2014 and he serves as the youngest speaker of the house in any chamber across the land. He represents some of the most beautiful areas in Michigan, including Mackinac County, which the Detroit regional chamber has a special soft spot in our heart for as we host the Mackinac policy conference in the speaker's district every year except for this year. It won't be in June. It'll be in August for obvious reasons. Uh, the speaker is no stranger to Southeast Michigan and Detroit. He spent a good deal of time in our little corner of the world and he has worked very collaboratively with our folks down here on several issues of importance to this region and across the state. Speaker Chatfield thank you so much for joining us today.

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Sandy, thanks for having me on. It's a pleasure to be with you and , uh , I appreciate the partnership that we've had and I look forward to giving an update and answering any questions that you may have.

Sandy Baruah:

Well, great. Thank you so much and thank you for your incredible public service. So let's start with this. Uh, you are an incredibly busy man and I think you're an incredibly busy man, not because you're the speaker of the Michigan house of representatives, but you and Stephanie have a household of five very young children at home. So how is the family, especially during this time where you've got five kids at home all day?

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Sure. Wow. It's a , it's a good , um, you know, what a lot of the challenges we're facing , uh , as a family are no different than the challenges obviously that families across Michigan and our entire country are facing. So our schedules are adjusted. Uh, we're making the most of it. And , uh, and uh, we're, we're making do, you know, it's a , it's a busy household. It's a loud household. Uh , kids have school work , they've got to complete. I've got conference calls I need to do and we've all got our different things, but it's no different than every other caller and what they're going through. And , uh , so something that we will certainly all remember. I can tell you that Sandy.

Sandy Baruah:

Well , uh , please give Stephanie our best wishes and obviously we want you and your family do to get through this crisis, safe and sound . So please give her our best.

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Her degree was in elementary education, so , we were joking yesterday that it is getting put to good use today by both of us. So , uh, I will let her know that you said that Sandy.

Sandy Baruah:

And you're, you're a former teacher as well too. So I think your household is probably in a little bit better shape than the rest of us.

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Well, everyone's got their challenges and our teachers across our state I know are doing a tremendous job and a lot of them are doing obviously virtual learning, distance learning over the phone, whatever it is. So, I mean, my hats off to our teachers who are stepping up to the plate right now.

Sandy Baruah:

Yeah, kudos to that. So, Mr. Speaker , you're obviously talking to an audience today of a Southeast Michigan folks. Uh , tell us, and I think this is important, what is the experience up in the Northern part of the state? Uh, how are they viewing this crisis? How are they experiencing this crisis and how might it differ from how those of us and say grand Rapids or Detroit or Lansing might be experiencing it?

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Well, it's a good question. I think there's certainly an amount of frustration, right? All across the state and across the country. Uh , no one necessarily planned for covid-19 to happen or for their schedules to be adjusted the way that they have been. Um, and there's certainly some fear, right, of themselves or their loved ones contracting it. So those are the same challenges I think, that everyone is facing. Um , but if you look at the statistics, you know, Sandy, obviously Northern Michigan and the upper peninsula , um, have not been hit as hard as certainly Southeast or other parts of Michigan have . So I think there's, there's conflicted opinions in the North, but, you know, we rely, we're a tourism destination and we rely on a healthy, vibrant economy and we rely on travel and people coming up North and enjoying themselves, so, you know, we've, we've certainly been hit economically up North and , uh, you know, as far as distance learning and online learning goes for education, which is very important these days. Um, you know, we don't have the same necessarily. We don't have the same connections for wifi that other areas of the state do. So we've got our own challenges that we're facing. Um, and there's, I , I'm receiving many different calls , um, and questions about potentially having the governor regionalize , her executive order, right, to treat different parts of the state differently. Um, and that's what I'm hearing most from up North, but there's certainly confusion. There's, there's certainly some fear. Um, and there's a goal to make sure that , uh, the governor's executive orders perhaps aren't being painted with too broad of a brush where they have unintended consequences up North. Um, but, you know, I remind them we're all in this together. Um , and I'm going to do all I can to be a resource for the governor and , you know, I commend her efforts thus far whether or not I agree with every single action she's taken. Uh, you know, I remain convinced that she's in the best position to make these decisions and partner with President Trump. Um, and , uh , whether you're Republican or Democrat, we're all on the same team right now because Coronavirus isn't playing politics and I don't think we should be either. So that's my message to Northern Michigan.

Sandy Baruah:

You know, that's a, that is a really great and important message at this critical time. I think that, you know, people of good faith , uh, both at our national level and our state level , uh, you may not agree with their decision, but you know, we shouldn't be questioning , uh, motives or things like that right now. You can, you can, you can make a decision that , uh, that someone else disagrees with. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're doing it for the wrong reason.

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

No, I think you're spot on. And I think , uh, we have to make the decision that we're going to set politics aside and that doesn't mean that you stop fighting for your beliefs. It doesn't mean that you stop advocating for what you think will move our state or country in the right direction , uh, but you don't do it necessarily in a public manner where you're taking partisan shots. And I think if we can, if we can make that decision to view this in that light , um, our state and our country will be far better off.

Sandy Baruah:

Mr. Speaker, the state of Michigan has taken several steps , uh, to help , uh, individuals and businesses get through this unprecedented crisis. Uh , can you talk a little bit about some of the steps that you and your colleagues in Lansing have taken?

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Sure. So, you know, when we first learned about Covid-19 and the challenges we were going to be facing from it, we were actually very proactive in our partnership , uh, with the governor. And we ensured , uh, that she had the resources that she needed to deploy across the state. And to date , we've already appropriated $150 million which is the fourth most that any state has deployed across the entire country. Uh, and we wanted to make sure that she had those resources , um, in hand and ready to deploy. And we've also untied the hands of the administration as it relates to federal funding. Normally when federal funds come in, it still requires the legislature to spend those dollars, but obviously we're limited , in a pragmatic way of meeting on a daily basis. So we untied the hands of the governor to ensure that she could partner directly with President Trump and his administration , but we're also, we're also doing a lot of work to ensure that our hospitals and our first responders , um, don't run out of PPE. And that's something that we're hearing , uh, is a challenge across the entire country. And we've ensured that the manufacturer's association is working directly with the MEDDC and the hospital association as it relates to supply and demand of PPE to ensure that, you know, there's, there's a lot of manufacturers, for instance, that have suspended their current product line to begin manufacturing personal protection equipment. And in my district, in my hometown of Petoskey where I was born , um, they've, you know, Petoskey plastics has done an incredible job and has set that standard. They, they are now suspending what they were currently producing and are now making 15,000 , plastic protective gowns for nurses , uh, on a daily basis and shipping those around the state and around the country , and I know a Quicken loans has really led by example in the city of Detroit and across the entire state as well, by their help with lending their staff for testing , suspending rent payments at their bedrock apartment complex and they, you know, they're doing a lot in Detroit. We've got companies doing a lot in Northern Michigan. So really I look at this more as a partnership. How can, you know, how can your state government partner with the business community to ensure people are getting the services they need? So, you know, we've been as proactive as we can and are trying to be a resource to the governor to put her in the best spots to make these decisions.

Sandy Baruah:

Michigan is a small business state , uh, as, as most States are , uh, you're talking to small business leaders on a fairly regular basis. What are they telling you about the federal programs, the state programs, and in some cases, some local programs , uh, that are in place, are, do they feel these small businesses that these programs are going to meet the needs of the challenge?

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Well, you know, it's tough to answer that question because no one knows what the challenge would look like next week. Right. And we're learning more about this virus on a daily basis and on a weekly basis. Um, so it's, it's really, it's putting the tools in place that will have them best prepare to meet the challenges this week or next week. Right. Um , so it's difficult to answer the question, but I would tell you , uh, you know, Brian Calley is the president of the small business association of Michigan and I've had several communications with him. I'm actually talking with him later today as well, and updating their members. Um, but this is really, it's a partnership between the state and the federal government and this is our way of ensuring that they're going to have the resources they need , um , whether it's additional loans , uh , but it's also just coping with the new challenges that we have. Um, so there's many different things that we have coming down the pipe right now , uh, to work with small businesses. Um, and , uh , whether or not, you know , they feel like it's adequate enough, we'll only be able to tell in time, but I will tell you our small businesses have really stepped up around the state recently and I'm very proud of the efforts.

Sandy Baruah:

Yeah, I know these are really difficult questions to forecast and here's yet another one. Uh what about the impact that you think that this might have on Michigan's recovery overall? We went through the eight years of the Snyder administration where we saw a tremendous growth and really almost all parts of the state businesses doing well, you know, families doing better. Uh, you know, what is a big crisis like this that's yet undefined in terms of its scope do for a Michigan's longterm economic picture?

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Right. Well, I think the answer to that will depend on how we address a covid-19 in the coming weeks. And what I mean by that is we've seen several States around the country have stay at home orders, but they're now transitioning , um, in their business climate to start having a risk based assessment and what services are allowed and what services are not. Uh, you know, right now we have an essential versus nonessential argument, right? Where there's, there is justifiably confusion and understandably confusion around the state and around the country of what the essential and what's not essential. Um, I think we need to start looking at how can we keep, how can we, you know, remain taking this very seriously. How can we ensure that people are kept safe but transition to what work can be done in a safe manner rather than in a bottle of essential versus nonessential and I've had many conversations with the governor and I'm sure many other people are reaching out to her as well on whether that's landscaping, whether that's uh , manufacturing, whether it's construction, where we think CDC protocols and social distancing guidelines can be followed and trying to work with her best we can to ensure certain practices can continue that are being done safely. I think if we can transition to that quickly the recovery will be more smooth because you are correct. We've come a long way in the last 10 years and before, you know, over 10 years ago you couldn't see any sign that said, you know, jobs were available. But now, you know, as of a month ago , you couldn't drive 10 minutes in Michigan without seeing a help wanted sign. And that means that, you know, the jobs are available. So we have a long way to get back to that. Um , my goal obviously is working with Governor Whitmer and President Trump to ensure we get there as quickly as possible. But the question is impossible to answer right now simply because, number one, I don't know how long this is going to last, but number two, I don't know how long this will take for us to transition to a risk based assessment. Um, obviously we're, you know, we're taking this one day at a time and I'm going to continue to work with the governor every single day. Um, but there's, there's still a lot that's a yet to be determined about our future.

Sandy Baruah:

Before I turn it over to Brad Williams , uh , let me ask this question about , uh, the relationship between , uh, the legislature and the governor. I know there is a , uh, an issue right now that you all are dealing with. In fact, I think you're coming back into session tomorrow regarding the governor's request to extend the , uh , emergency declaration time period. Uh, can you give us a little background on, on what the issue is and how the legislature might be looking at this slightly differently than the governor?

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Sure. So again, you know, this is a perfect example of you can have differing opinions and you can have a different, you know, understandings of the law, but you know, doing this to the best you can in a nonpartisan way I think is extremely important. So there are two different acts in Michigan law that allow for state of emergency. You have a 1945 act and then you have the 1976 act. The 1976 act when a governor declares a state of emergency, there's a 28 day shot clock on that state of emergency. So what happens is after that 28 days, in order for the state of emergency to continue and therefore allow the governor to enact or suspend a law, it requires legislative approval through a resolution. Now since 1977 there have been 87 different state of emergencies or disasters declared by a governor. Only 10 of those have been extended, but every single extension came from legislative approval. So the governor's 28 day shot clock expires tomorrow. Uh, she made the request to extend it for 70 more days. And what we, what we've decided instead is to continue putting her in a good spot to work with the president to continue to state of emergency and state disaster. Uh, but in the spirit of working between the state and the federal government, we're going to coincide , uh , with the CDC recommendations of social distancing guidelines being pushed to April 30th. So what we're going to do, rather than pushing the governors , uh , or approving the governor's recommendation of pushing the state of emergency to the end of June, we're going to keep it until the beginning of may. Uh, I think that's a more responsible approach. So we can continue evaluating this every couple of weeks we'll be giving 23 additional days, you know, on the protocol that we've adopted for tomorrow. Um, it's certainly unprecedented. There will be no more than five members on the floor at a given time. And we're doing the best we can to limit traffic in and out of the chamber and have people congregating in large area . So , um, I can sell you the house chamber is , uh , fully sanitized. We've adopted new standards. There'll be no people waiting in the lobby. There'll be no people waiting in the rotunda and only five people on the floor at one time. So , um, you know, I think this is the responsible way to address it so we can get in, we can extend the state of emergency, continue giving the governor the tools that she needs to help run our state. And I'm going to continue partnering with her. And , um, you know, and this, there's no, there's no way of telling what the perfect decision is, but you know, we're doing the best we can to work with her and , uh , ensure that it's being done in a nonpartisan way.

Sandy Baruah:

Well, I think we all appreciate the spirit in which you're doing , uh , doing this and I assume that tomorrow's vote , uh, that's not going to be a vote. Vote isn't, it's going to be, have to be a roll call vote.

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Well, any bill that gets passed in the legislature, it's required that it'd be a record roll call vote. But as for resolutions , um, there's no requirement for it to be a record roll call vote. So tomorrow , uh , as a matter of fact, it will be a voice vote and the resolution will be adopted and the state of emergency will be extended for 23 more days.

Sandy Baruah:

Okay, great. Thank you mr speaker. With that, I'm going to turn it over to Brad Williams for questions from our audience. [Brad Williams]: Great. And thank you Sandy and thank you mr speaker for everything you've done. It's been a pretty remarkable to see , uh , the legislature and the governor work together , uh , so well over

Brad Williams:

the last several weeks. Um, to piggyback off , um, the most recent a conversation , uh , you know, a lot of workplaces have had to adapt over the last several weeks as to how they do things. Uh , have you started to give thought as to how the legislature can adapt in the future? Um, you know, a lot of public meetings have been taking on to zoom or other teleconferencing options. Uh, is that something that the legislature should work on? Uh, you know, should, God forbid we , uh, face another challenge like this in the future?

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Well, I think, you know, the new protocol that we've adopted tomorrow, it's certainly a recognition of the challenges that we're facing right now because of covid-19 and this pandemic. Um , and as for the legislature addressing new ways to conduct themselves in the future, I think this crisis will certainly make us as a society evaluate a lot of things we do, whether it's, you know, meeting in legislative session, whether it's online distance learning for education, there's a lot of things , um, that we need to reevaluate and find any deficiencies that we have in the process. Uh , you know, as for just, you know, adjusting to a remote voting right now we're working online, there's nothing constitutionally or statutorily that allows us to do that. And should we move to something like that in the future, in a limited , uh, you know, scope, you know, there would be some security and transparency, technological legal concerns , uh, associated with remote voting. Um, and we don't want to we certainly don't want to allow that precedent to be started unless it's done the right way. So we will be having those conversations. Brad , as for tomorrow, I think what we've adopted , uh, is certainly the safest way of meeting , uh, and ensuring that there's not a large congregation on the floor having members be in their car until it's time for them to check in. Um , and you know, because we're having so few be on the floor at any given time , uh, check-in alone will take three hours. Um , and this is a safe way of doing it tomorrow. Uh, but those conversations will move forward into the future as far as what's a better way to potentially ever do a remote voting if it was possible.

Brad Williams:

Um, have you , uh, I'm sure you have mr speaker started to think about what the implications of this virus are going to have on the state budget. What do you think the, the initial reports are and you know, is there hope that , uh , there will be some assistance from the federal government? Because of course we need to have a balanced budget every year. We don't have the option of running a deficit. Uh , and I know you and your colleagues have been working on the next fiscal year state budget, you know, for, for several months already. And, and you know, you basically can throw all that work out the window at this point. So you know, where, what, what does the future hold for that at this point?

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Right. So, you know, the beginning of this answer really is the same as what it was to one of Sandy's questions in that there's no way of fully knowing what the entire budget impact will be because I don't know how long necessarily this will go and if we can transition to more of a risk based assessment for businesses over in essential versus nonessential . But I will tell you this, Brad , early indicators are showing , at least one to potentially three and a half a billion dollar , uh , impact to our budget and federal aid will certainly help. Um , but it's not going to backfill the entire list of state revenues and you know, you astutely noticed that we have a balanced budget requirement here in Michigan. So it will force us as a legislature and administration to prioritize and determine, you know, what's the most important in our budget.

Brad Williams:

Um, there's , there's, there's no question that when you halt the economy to the degree that we have, it will have an impact on the state's bottom line as it relates to the budget. Um, and you know, the same attitude that we've had through covid-19 right now. We need to keep the same attitude as we're making those adjustments to our budget. And it's, we're all in this together and the less political we make this, the sooner we can get out of it. So the federal aid will help. It's certainly not going to backfill everything. Um , and we're going to have to reevaluate the budget once we're fully out of this , but this will not be an insignificant hit and it will be something that we will most likely feel. Uh , Mr. Speaker, have you started to think about, and it sounds like you have already, but you know what different , uh, the, the economy's gonna look like coming out of this. Um, you know, we've talked a lot about the response, the immediate response to, to the chaos that the virus is causing, but what the economy's gonna look like in recovery, certainly it's not going to look the same. Um, things are already different. I think people are understanding the value of , uh , video conferencing for example, as opposed to maybe traveling to see people in person. So have you started to think about how that's going to change the economy and maybe what the policy prescriptions might be coming out of this.

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

So I would tell you we've already begun having those conversations internally here. Brad, we've created what I would identify as short term solutions, things that need to happen now, whether it's in , as I mentioned with Sandy, whether it's adjustments to landscaping or construction or different things around the state that perhaps could be done safely. But then we're going to have our longterm , uh, policy changes that are going to be required. And , uh, what those policy changes look like will be determined by how long Covid-19 goes and how long we're operating under this. Um, but you know, it's safe to say that our economy is going to take a hit and this is going to be something where the more we work together in a nonpartisan way, the better we will be able to address it. And I think you're going to need to see an unprecedented collaboration between the state government and federal government and you know, I'm optimistic because of, you know , the American spirit and resiliency and entrepreneurship that we will get through it. Um , but this will be a partnership between the state and feds , uh, but also , you know, the private sector really stepping up and doing what they can. So what those longterm policy changes look like will be determined by how long this goes. Uh , but we are having those conversations right now and we're already talking with the administration about it. So hopefully they can be implemented in a quick fashion. When we're through all this.

Brad Williams:

Well, mr speaker, I know you have a hard stop at 1:30. So I'm going to ask one more question from our listeners and then I'm going to hand it back to Sandy. Uh, there is, you know, the governor has already weighed in on the may elections , uh , as they come up. And of course we've got two more elections coming up this year, both in August and November, a primary and a general election. Uh , and so the question from the listener is where do the members of the legislature, I guess you can't speak for all 110 house members, but you can speak for yourself a stand on mail-in voting , uh, for the election coming up in November and inconceivably in August as well.

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Yeah. This has certainly been a debate that we've had internally and Brad, I certainly have some hesitancy on allowing just a full mail in voting election. I want to ensure that, you know , these elections are done properly with no interference, right? And where we can ensure the accuracy and legitimacy of our voting system, which is obviously a very sacred to our Democratic Republic that we have , um, you know, our countries face challenges, you know, multiple times over the last couple hundred years, right? We've gone through different challenges, different wars , uh, where we've still had voting. Um, because of that, you know, one of my early conversations I had with the governor was about maybe taking the May election and simply just pushing it back to June. Um, so we could allow people to still vote in-person that chose to vote in person because there's some folks who have a problem with doing mail-in voting and they'd rather go in-person. So I think it's about having a system where we can ensure people are kept safe. Uh, obviously November is still a ways out right now. Uh, we do have a system in our state right now for absentee voting. Um, and if you want to stay safe, you know, you can vote from home today. Um, and that's still something that's allowed. So I certainly give pause to doing a full mail-in vote. Um, and I think that , uh, you know, Americans, we can rise to the occasion and still get through the vote , uh, in November like we have in years past.

Brad Williams:

Great. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Sandy, I will give it back to you.

Sandy Baruah:

Great . Mr. Speaker. Thank you so very much. Uh, again, we know you have a hard stop at 1:30. Uh, why don't I just give you one minute to wrap up any thoughts that you might have.

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Oh, I appreciate that Sandy. And I do want to say, you know, I really appreciate it even as you know, I'm a Republican from Northern Michigan. Um, you know, I've really appreciated the opportunity to partner with the City of Detroit. Um, you know, Sandy, you've been a , you know, an incredible asset to me , uh, here in Lansing. Uh, you know, Mayor Duggan as well has been someone I've really appreciated my partnership with, County Executive, Warren Evans. I've really, I've enjoyed , the relationship, the conversations, and we're all in this together. You know, many different reforms that we've adopted in Lansing over the last several years have come from a strong partnership with the city, Detroit and your chamber. Uh , and that's something that I think should continue even throughout covid-19. And, you know, certainly this is an unprecedented challenge that our country is facing. And I think it requires unprecedented leadership. Though I might not agree with every decision made at the state level or federal level in real time, I also understand I don't have the same information available to me that they do. And I'm going to continue to work with , uh, Governor Whitmer and President Trump , uh , to ensure that they're in the best position because , uh , the success of governor Whitmer right now means the success of the state of Michigan. Uh, and the success of President Trump means the success of America. And I'm going to fight for that success every single day. Uh, and I think if we approach this from a standpoint of no one necessarily planned on it, but we're all gonna step up, rise to the occasion and show leadership , uh , this can be something that we come out on the other end , um , stronger and even better with a better foundation. So Americans, we've met every single challenge that's ever been thrown to us and it's because of we've always stayed united. Uh, and that's my message to whether anyone, they're Republican or Democrat. This is a nonpartisan issue. We're all in it together and , uh , and I just appreciate the opportunity , uh, to give you an update. Um , but I do value the feedback. If anyone has any, any ideas or concerns or questions, they can always contact my office and we're taking all of them very seriously and we're going to do the best we can to implement a good process moving forward and make sure our state stays on the right track.

Sandy Baruah:

Well, Mr. Speaker, I cannot think of a better and more American message to end on than what you just said. Uh , let me thank you for your public service. Uh , thank you for your partnership with your legislative colleagues and with the governor of Michigan and my best to you and Stephanie and the five kids , uh, as you get through this day at home mode. And thank you again for your service to Michigan. Have a good day.

Speaker Lee Chatfield:

Always a pleasure to talk. Thank you.

Sandy Baruah:

Thank you Mr. Speaker.