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Whitmer to deem some COVID budget sections unconstitutional

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her virtual State of the State address the state, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 in Lansing, Mich.
Michigan Office of the Governor
Associated Press
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her virtual State of the State address the state, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 in Lansing, Mich.

Governor will block sections affecting local health departments.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday will deem some Republican-backed budget provisions unconstitutional attempts to restrict COVID-19 public health measures but allow language limiting potential state and municipal vaccination requirements.

The Democratic governor’s moves will come in conjunction with her signing $55 billion in spending two days before the new fiscal year starts.

“These dangerous, anti-public health boilerplate provisions that seek to tie the hands of local health departments and municipalities will not be enforced as part of the final budget because they violated various aspects of the Michigan Constitution,” spokesman Bobby Leddy said in a statement.

Whitmer’s office had already said she would block two sections affecting local health departments. One would prohibit mask mandates for anyone under 18. The other would strip the agencies’ funding if they have a pandemic order in effect Friday, unless county commissioners vote to support it.

The governor also will declare unconstitutional a provision that attempts to require certain exemptions for students at universities with coronavirus vaccine mandates. The schools receive state funding but are independently governed.

Negotiated language that will remain intact restricts state and municipal COVID-19 vaccine requirements — including for government employees — and bans so-called government vaccine passports. Whitmer is OK with the provision because it does not apply to medical facilities and it recognizes that President Joe Biden soon plans to implement a “soft” vaccine mandate — requiring that employers with at least 100 workers force them to get vaccinated or be tested weekly.

The pending federal regulations could affect government employees in Michigan.

The governor also will allow a requirement that the state health department provide evidence justifying emergency epidemic orders and list what factors it will consider when deciding whether to terminate or modify them.

Whitmer, whose administration lifted pandemic orders three months ago, has repeatedly said she does not plan to issue broad vaccine or mask mandates. But she also has made clear she will oppose GOP attempts to undermine or restrict “basic lifesaving actions.”