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Whitmer deems some COVID-19 budget sections unconstitutional

Gretchen Whitmer
Posted at 3:31 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 15:31:40-04

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed $55 billion in spending to complete the state budget, hailing the bipartisan bills as an example of finding common ground with Republicans despite partisan tension during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This budget shows that divided government doesn’t have to be dysfunctional government,” the Democrat said at Lansing Community College.

She emphasized how the budget will expand eligibility for child care subsidies, provide $1,000 bonuses to child care workers and continue to fund new tuition-free assistance for adults ages 25 and up and frontline workers. The funding also will repair or replace 100 local bridges, clean up polluted sites, fix aging dams and replace lead water lines in Benton Harbor and other communities.

The governor also indirectly addressed a provision that attempts to require certain exemptions for students at universities with coronavirus vaccine mandates. The schools receive state funding but are independently operated.

She said any provision that deprives universities of their supervisory control and budgetary independence is unconstitutional.

“They’ve got to decide how they’re going to implement boilerplate. It’s my understanding that none of the universities have policies that run contrary to the spirit of that boilerplate anyway,” Whitmer told reporters before signing the bills.

Negotiated language that remains 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 plans to implement a “soft” vaccine mandate — requiring that employers with at least 100 workers force them to get vaccinated or be tested weekly.

It “provides a roadmap for public employers to ensure their employees either receive the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine or undergo regular testing to keep their co-workers safe,” Whitmer wrote.

The pending federal regulations could affect government employees in Michigan. The governor did state that any provision infringing on the Michigan Civil Service Commission’s exclusive authority to regulate conditions of employment is unconstitutional.

She also allowed 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 that she will oppose GOP attempts to undermine or restrict “basic lifesaving actions.”

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This story was corrected to reflect that Whitmer didn’t deem as unenforceable a provision requiring universities with vaccine mandates to include certain exemptions, but that she said the universities have the autonomy to decide whether to abide.