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Whitmer to veto restrictions on local government COVID orders

Office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Governor Gretchen Whitmer will veto language in a budget bill that would punish local health departments that issue COVID-19 mask orders or restrictions. She will sign a budget with line-item before the state’s new fiscal year begins Friday.

Whitmer Press Secretary Bobby Leddy says the provision is both unenforceable and unconstitutional. The Michigan Constitution requires the governor and the Legislature to enact laws that protect and promote public health.

“We’ve always been clear that the state of Michigan would not withhold funding from local health departments for implementing universal mask policies or quarantine protocols in local schools -- specifically ones that are designed to keep students safe so that they can continue learning in person throughout this pandemic,” he said.

Republicans disagree with the decision, but that language was not part of the bargain they struck om the budget. Soo, says Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Stamas, that won’t derail the agreement. That’s even though Republicans think the governor does not have the authority to use her line-item veto power to remove policy language from the budget.

“So until one side or the other probably challenges whether something can be deemed unenforceable and finding the opportunity to pick a fight on that,” he said, “it hasn’t come up yet.”

The new budget will ensure government agencies and public universities are funded going into the new fiscal year. Negotiations will continue between Whitmer and the Legislature’s leaders on how to use several billion dollars remaining in federal COVID-19 rescue funds.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.