Whitmer, Senate agree on budget, bill could prevent school mask mandates

Bill keeps director, local health officers from issuing mask requirements for those under 18

Photo of Angela Mulka

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state Legislature on Wednesday, Sept. 22, agreed upon a budget proposal that includes language preventing health officials from enforcing mask mandates in schools and preventing state public agencies from enforcing vaccines on employees or customers.

Under the nearly $70 billion budget deal that includes major investments in infrastructure, child care and higher education, there is language stipulating how far government-funded bodies can take COVID-19 restrictions, including requiring the vaccine — a win for Republicans who have fought back against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 mitigation efforts throughout the pandemic, according to MLive.

The 1,000-page budget, also known as Senate Bill 82, states in one section that, "The director or local health officer shall not issue or enforce any orders or other directives that require an individual in this state who is under the age of 18 to wear a face mask or face covering."

The bans on vaccine mandates and mask rules are nestled in what is known as "boilerplate language." The language is not intended to create new policies, but legislators do frequently attempt to insert objectives that may have stalled in the traditional legislative process, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Whitmer is expected to sign the budget ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline, in time for it to take effect before the new fiscal year.

However, the likelihood of this section surviving Whitmer’s line item veto is not high, but as of now, the language is in there. It would mean local health departments like Oakland and Wayne counties, which have issued mask mandates for K-12 schools, would need to rescind them, according to an article by clickondetroit.com. Instead, mask mandates would be left in the hands of school boards and districts.

“The governor has demonstrated that she believes that local health departments and local school boards should be involved in these decisions,” said Oakland County Executive David Coulter, Click on Detroit reported. “I agree with that and any opportunity to remove us from that would be a huge mistake, and I would certainly hope that she would not support that.”

More than half of all Michigan students attend a school with a mask mandate, but that means hundreds of thousands do not, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Whitmer has previously said she is not considering any vaccine requirements or mask mandates. But, she has called on local health and education officials to enact orders requiring masks at school.

The decision on whether to require masks in schools or not remains a topic of contention. For example, Eaton County commissioners and elected representatives wrote a letter "opposing tyrannical mandates" in schools that was issued Sept. 22.

The letter calls for the immediate resignation of the health officer of the Barry-Eaton District Health Department, Colette Scrimger, because of "the false statements and misleading direction given in her Executive Order 2021-1 and Executive Order 2021-2." In addition, the letter calls for her to completely rescind her recent aforementioned orders for schools and students.