Lansing ordinance enables tickets for COVID-19 rulebreakers

Greater Lansing charts nearly 2,000 coronavirus cases in one week

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An ordinance approved this week by the Lansing City Council is designed to ramp up local enforcement of state health orders on face masks, social distancing and capacity restrictions.

The City Council voted Monday to formally codify misdemeanor charges for those in Lansing who are caught willfully violating public health orders handed down by state officials and the Ingham County Health Department, including those wrapped into the latest lockdown orders.

Under the new ordinance, willful violations of state and county pandemic orders are punishable by ticketed civil infractions — as well as by existing misdemeanor charges — that could rack up fines as high as $500 for each subsequent violation after a warning is issued.

The change doesn’t change much operationally, officials said. Instead, it simply allows local police officers to exercise more flexibility on virus-related enforcement of orders that require face masks in indoor spaces, limit household gatherings and are keeping dining rooms closed.

Council President Peter Spadafore explained that codifying those broad regulations into the City Code enables local officers to pursue civil infractions handled by the city attorney, rather than only seek related misdemeanor charges through the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office.

Without the ordinance in place, the Lansing Police Department hasn’t been able to issue a single ticket related to the pandemic since it arrived in Michigan. A spokesman said 13 reports were sent to the county prosecutor, but none have resulted in criminal charges. Still, even after the recent change, cops will continue to respond to calls with a foremost focus on education.

City Attorney Jim Smiertka said local cops will also soon be trained on enforcement procedures under the new ordinance, as well as under what circumstances in which tickets can be issued.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued citations and the Liquor Control Commission suspended liquor licenses to several businesses that flouted public health orders issued last month, including those that limited gatherings and indoor food service.

Several businesses in Fremont, Newaygo and Fenton were named this week for allegedly allowing non-residential gatherings, providing in-person dining and failing to require face masks.

In related news …

Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail sent a letter Monday to remind state Senate leaders to follow COVID-19 protocols when they hold hearings at the Capitol, reported the Detroit Free Press. In the letter, Vail reportedly warned that she has received multiple reports of safety violations — like a failure to wear face masks — during Senate hearings. Vail said she sent the letter more as a courtesy than a threat. The State Capitol is beyond her purview as a county health officer, though state regulations still guide best practices for employers statewide. Vail also told reporters Tuesday that she hadn’t yet received a response.

MIRS News reports that vaccines for COVID-19 are expected to become widely available in Michigan by April or May. Health-care workers and nursing home rwsidents should get the first doses, an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control recommended Tuesday.

City leaders from across the country called for state legislative action during what is known as the “lame duck” period before Jan. 1 in which they could pass measures that would help prevent cuts to vital city services without requiring a state handout, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Whitmer asked lawmakers for a $100 million state relief plan last week. Attorney General Dana Nessel has also since joined a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general representing 43 states this week urging federal lawmakers to extend the federal CARES Act until the end of 2021.

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, is looking for nominations of “frontline heroes” to be publicly recognized and thanked with a $100 gift card to a local restaurant. Highlights will be featured twice weekly though Dec. 31 on Hertel’s Facebook page and his online newsletter. To nominate a local frontline hero, send an email with details to senchertel@senate.michigan.gov.

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