Latest Michigan news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 p.m. EDT

VIRUS OUTBREAK-MICHIGAN

Unemployment site down; Health exec: distancing must stay

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s unemployment website and other online services are down. Monday is the first day self-employed workers and independent contractors can start filing claims for benefits under a federal aid package enacted because of the coronavirus pandemic. A spokesman for the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget says state networks and applications are experiencing “performance issues” causing some online services to be temporarily unavailable. Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency has been deluged by people seeking benefits. More than 800,000 filed initial claims over three weeks, second-most in the U.S.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-BALLOT DRIVE

Anti-LGBT discrimination ballot drive moves to e-signatures

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A group spearheading a ballot drive to add LGBT anti-discrimination protections to Michigan’s civil rights law is moving to collect voter signatures online because of the coronavirus pandemic. Fair and Equal Michigan says Monday the electronic petition campaign is believed to be the first in state history. The group says the strategy is legal and secure. People who want to sign can go to a website with a two-factor authentication system and enter their driver’s license or state ID card number to be cross-checked against the voter file. The ballot committee has until late May to collect about 340,000 valid signatures.

LAWNS-TAX DISPUTE

Lawn company fails to reap tax break at Michigan court

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A lawn care company had hoped to harvest a significant tax break. But it has failed to break ground at the Michigan appeals court. TruGreen said it should qualify for a tax exemption on seed, fertilizer and other products that enhance the lawns of customers. It wants to be treated like farmers who till and plant. TruGreen latched on to a key phrase in Michigan law referring to “things of the soil.” But the appeals court said the company’s services don’t qualify for the tax break. Judge Elizabeth Gleicher said “things of the soil” doesn’t pertain to “blades of well-tended grass.”

AP-US-VIRUS-OUTBREAK-ONLINE-MARIJUANA-SALES

Virus fuels pot industry’s push for online sales, delivery

DENVER (AP) — Colorado has made online sales of recreational marijuana legal during the coronavirus pandemic, fulfilling one of the pot industry’s biggest wishes. The move is also fueling the argument for more concessions that could be made permanent when the crisis eases. Dispensaries can remain open during a statewide stay-at-home order, and customers can now pay for marijuana online and then pick up their purchase at the store. Online sales had been barred in large part because most credit card companies shy away from dealing with a drug that is illegal federally. Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois and Oregon also allow online recreational marijuana sales. 

AP-US-VIRUS-OUTBREAK-RESTAURANTS-GROCERIES

US restaurants turn to grocery sales to help offset losses

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements tied to the pandemic have put restaurant dining on hold, forcing many to close and leaving others barely hanging on. From large chains to mom-and-pop eateries, many restaurants have opened make-shift grocery stores. Panera, Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Subway are among national chains that have begun selling grocery items. Several local restaurants across the country are doing so, too. The fallout from the coronavirus has devastated restaurants. Data from the National Restaurant Association says the industry has lost 3 million jobs and $25 billion in sales since March 1.

UPPER PENINSULA-ENERGY

Panel readies proposals on Upper Peninsula propane supplies

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A panel studying ways to secure energy for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is developing recommendations on propane supplies. The U.P. Energy Task Force will meet Monday by video conference to wrap up the list, which must be submitted to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer by Friday. More than 800 public comments were received. The final recommendations, technical document and appendices will be posted online. The task force next will begin discussions on alternative solutions for meeting the U.P.’s energy needs. It will focus on security, reliability, affordability and environmental soundness.

AP-VIRUS-OUTBREAK-BUSINESS-FALLOUT

A pause on Wall Street; furloughs ramp up, travel winds down

Hundreds of companies have withdrawn financial guidance because of the unprecedented disruption to the global economy and to consumers. But details about the extent of the damage are beginning to emerge. Ford on Monday says it will likely lose $600 million in the first quarter with all of its US factories shuttered. US markets are selling off sharply after having their best week since the mid-1970s. And job cuts continue. 

VIRUS OUTBREAK-MICHIGAN TELEMEDICINE

Telemedicine surges in Michigan as doctors close offices

DETROIT (AP) — Officials say the closure of doctor’s offices around Michigan during the coronavirus pandemic has spurred a statewide surge in the embrace of telemedicine, a practice that allows doctors to treat patients remotely by phone or computer, officials said. Hospitals and doctors have moved quickly to adopt the technology after government agencies and lawmakers removed regulatory obstacles starting in early March.  The Detroit News reports that experts say the telemedicine technology has advanced and spread quickly in a matter of weeks amid Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home, stay-safe executive order. 

VIRUS OUTBREAK-COMMUNITY GARDENS

Michigan food bank delays opening gardens due to pandemic

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Lansing-area food bank has postponed opening 19 community gardens because of concerns that residents using them or sharing gardening tools could spread or contract the coronavirus. The Greater Lansing Food Bank mission for the Garden Project provides home and community gardens for low- and moderate-income residents. The organization says the allotments, which usually open in April or May, will remain closed until further notice. CEO Michelle Lantz told The Lansing State Journal that the nonprofit doesn’t want to encourage people to be out in a community setting in contact with one another. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month issued an executive stay-at-home order.