Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Whitmer signs state budget, vetoes anti-mask and anti-abortion measures

October 4, 2021
<p>Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs bipartisan bills extending unemployment benefits to 26 weeks on Oct. 20, 2020. Courtesy photo provided by Michigan Executive Office of the Governor.</p>

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs bipartisan bills extending unemployment benefits to 26 weeks on Oct. 20, 2020. Courtesy photo provided by Michigan Executive Office of the Governor.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed Michigan’s $70 billion yearly budget after vetoing several measures, including anti-choice measures and ordinances aimed at limiting local governments' ability to impose mask mandates.

The budget for the fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1 was passed through the State Legislature with broad bipartisan support last week and signed by Whitmer on the morning of Sept. 29. 

The budget sees the distribution of several previously enacted social and educational programs, including the yearly education budget passed earlier this year and Futures for Frontliners, a program that provides tuition free community college to certain essential workers who worked during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Whitmer highlighted benefits for Michigan’s middle class and small businesses, saying, “This is a budget that puts Michiganders first. We are coming together to grow the middle class, support small businesses, and invest in our communities.”

Republican legislators, who control both the State House and Senate, were able to include measures banning “vaccine passports” from use in public institutions and limiting the ability of local municipalities to impose mask mandates for those under 18 without facing a loss in funding.

In a letter Wednesday, Whitmer indicated that the latter measure was unconstitutional and vetoed the item in her signing of the bill, saying, “The legislature cannot unwind the Public Health Code in a budget bill or un-appropriate funds because they take issue with the actions of local health departments.”

Despite Whitmer’s striking language from the final budget, the provisions seem to have created confusion among some municipalities, including Berrien County. The Berrien County Health Department, which had previously required masks in pre K-12 settings, rescinded its public health order effective Sept. 30.

The department said that despite Whitmer’s explicit veto on the measure, the county’s “legal counselors have advised it stands until proven otherwise in a court of law.” 

"It is appalling that local health departments in Michigan must choose between safeguarding school children from the threat of COVID-19 and the future funding for our essential public health programs," Courtney Davis, acting health officer of the Berrien County Health Department, said in a statement.

She continued, "Our hands are tied. We make this decision citing grave concerns over the health of our community."

As of publication, Allegan County has also suspended its mask mandate, while other counties are discussing the process.

Whitmer also vetoed items that she described as “anti-choice,” including measures that she says would, “create a gag rule preventing reproductive health service providers from even mentioning abortion and otherwise make it hard for women to get the healthcare they need.” 

Whitmer also noted that while the Supreme Court currently allows Texas’ restrictive anti-abortion laws, abortion is still safe and legal in Michigan and she will “continue to stand in the way of any efforts to strip away fundamental rights from women or get in the way of doctors' ability to do their jobs.”

After discussions around abortion laws were reignited earlier this month with the implementation of Texas’s abortion restrictions, Whitmer expressed her support for the repealing of a 1931 Michigan law that criminalizes abortion as a felony — that law is not currently enforced because of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling.

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