(The Center Square) – The Michigan Senate on Tuesday afternoon approved more than $4 billion in COVID-19 recovery spending, some of which is contingent on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer relinquishing pandemic powers she’s held for nearly a year.
Senate-passed bills seek to allocate $1.9 billion in education funding and $2.3 billion for the state health department and unemployment funding.
Federal funding comprises about $3.4 billion of the funds.
About $840.7 million of school district funding is tied to the enactment of HB 4049, which would prohibit the state Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) from closing schools to in-person instruction or banning school sports under a COVID-19 epidemic order.
The proposed legislation seeks to transfer authority from state government to local health departments. Furthermore, local health departments would be required to adhere to specific COVID-19 data benchmarks before halting in-person instruction or banning school sports.
The Senate also passed HB 4047, which if enacted into law, would allocate $600 million toward food assistance, $547 million to COVID-19 testing, $110 million toward vaccine distribution, and $33 million toward mental health and substance use disorder grants.
HB 4047 ties roughly $350 million of federal funding for COVID-19 epidemiology and lab capacity funding to the enactment of SB 1, which would limit the state health department’s ability to issue emergency orders for more than 28 days without legislative approval.
HB 4048 seeks to allocate about $1.65 billion to schools based on a formula weighing district needs, $125.7 million in Federal Governor's Emergency Education Relief funds, and $170.2 million in State School Aid Fund money.
The Republican’s COVID-19 recovery package is approximately $1 billion smaller than Whitmer’s plan.
For nearly a year, Republicans have charged that Whitmer chose to “go it alone” regarding COVID-19, even after an Oct. 2 reprimand by the Michigan Supreme Court which tossed her executive orders after April 30 and advised her to work with the legislature.
Even then, Whitmer tapped the 1978, rarely used state health department's pandemic authority, which was a "loophole only a lawyer could love," Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, said Tuesday.
Nesbitt alleged Whitmer focused "on finding another way to bypass a co-equal branch of government.”
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) applauded the bills’ passage.
“Since the Michigan Supreme Court declared Governor Whitmer’s issuance of executive orders to restrict and close businesses unconstitutional last fall, she has been issuing similar emergency orders through the MDHHS,” NFIB Michigan State Director Charlie Owens said in a statement. “We fully support efforts by the Senate and House to condition budget appropriations on a return to democracy in the governance of our state and putting an end to the governor’s unilateral and endless emergency orders.”
The NFIB also supports HB 4268, legislation still in the committee process that aims to prohibit MDHHS from closing "non-essential" businesses if they comply with the safety standards of “essential” businesses.
“Between the Governor's unconstitutional Executive Orders and now the Emergency Orders from the Department of Health and Human Services, the citizens of Michigan are left without a voice,” Owens said. “Our legislators who were duly elected to represent us have no authority or power to challenge or change these orders and regulations, which have harmed countless small businesses in Michigan.”
Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, described the tying of relinquishing pandemic power to a billion dollars of funding as a "political poison pill."
Irwin pushed an amendment aiming to break the tie bars that was struck down.
The legislation now heads to the House.