by Scott McClallen
On Wednesday, the Michigan House passed over $4 billion of COVID-19 recovery spending that ties over $1 billion of the funding to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer relinquishing the pandemic powers she’s held for nearly a year.
Federal funding comprises about $3.4 billion of the funds.
The first bill was HB 4047, which passed 85-25, and moves to Whitmer’s desk.
HB 4047, 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.
For nearly a year, Republicans have charged that Whitmer chose to battle COVID-19 alone through hundreds of unilateral executive orders, 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.
Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, called on Whitmer to continue loosening COVID-19 restrictions.
“Gov. Whitmer, your strictest-in-the-nation restrictions are crippling the foundation of our economy, our small businesses,” Albert said. “Who wants to take a risk to create a job, which is an opportunity for someone in search of bettering themselves, in this environment? Your measures aren’t based on science, but are calculated on measures to retain power.”
Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, proposed an unsuccessful amendment to allocate all of the more than $5 billion of federal funds approved by the U.S. Congress and signed by former President Donald J. Trump.
“These are our tax dollars, and this is an hour of need,” Tate said.
House Democrat Minority Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, said holding back some federal funds was basically “kneecapping Michigan’s recovery.”
“Bringing back Michigan taxpayer dollars is not writing a ‘blank check,’ she said, quoting Republicans’ reaction. Lasinski asserted the Michigan legislature should give the state government the full funding amount immediately.
Lawmakers also passed HB 4048 on a 77-33 vote, which 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.
Rep. Brenda Carter, D-Pontiac, pushed an unsuccessful amendment to break the tie bar between HBs 4048 and 4049, describing the current return to school plan as schools caught in the middle of a “hostage situation.”
“We will either set our students and education system on a firm path to recovery or ensure the road back is hard, long and difficult,” Carter said. “That is the choice today; to help or hinder our children’s success.”
Rep. Brad Paquette, R-Niles, responded that Democrats were holding students hostage from returning to in-person school and academic milestones.
“They’re being involuntarily kept from the process of learning,” Paquette said. “They’re being kept from first presentations, invigorating discourse, from educational interpersonal opportunities and cooperation, from inquiring about the world and how it works, and most alarmingly, they’re being kept from … learning the scientific method.”
Paquette argued safe, in-person learning is possible.
HB 4049 passed on a 60-49 vote.
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 tie-barred package moves to Whitmer’s desk where it faces an uncertain future.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.