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Whitmer vetos bill to forgive, refund COVID-19 fines

Following the rules implemented during the early days of the pandemic might sound simple, but the rules were constantly in flux.

Published: November 15, 2021 4:32pm

Updated: November 15, 2021 8:45pm

(The Center Square) -

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has vetoed a bill that aimed to forgive state-issued COVID-19 fines if the employer corrected the violation. The bill would have also required the state to refund companies that already paid fines.

Whitmer vetoed House Bill 4501 on Veteran’s Day, saying it would violate the minimum requirements set by the federal government.

"When a state fails to maintain the minimum standard, it loses control over enforcement of workplace standards," the Democratic governor wrote.

"That would mean higher penalties, an end to voluntary safety outreach services, and the loss of Michigan stakeholder voices in our occupational health and safety program. I will not let that happen."

The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency estimated the bill’s total impact would include reimbursement of about $250,000 in fines received by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA), as well as an inability to collect an additional uncollected $500,000 in fines assessed against employers.

Following the rules implemented during the early days of the pandemic might sound simple, but the rules were constantly in flux. Whitmer issued 192 executive orders in 2020, often written in legalese that’s hard for laypeople to understand. Those orders banned Michiganders from using motorboats, traveling to a secondary home, or even buying paint at a store larger than 50,000 square feet.

Republicans criticized the veto for two reasons. First, the Michigan Supreme Court tossed many of Whitmer’s orders in Oct. 2020, so the GOP calls the rules “unconstitutional.” Second, when Whitmer violated her own COVID-19 rules at an East Lansing bar, the establishment wasn’t fined. But for the rest of Michigan businesses, those fines still apply.

The veto follows Whitmer’s administration burning documents related to an alleged Port Huron COVID-19 workplace fine of $6,300. Although MIOSHA dropped the fines, Port Huron spent about $20,000 fighting the violation. MIOSHA says the investigator followed protocol.

Rep. Timmy Beson, R-Bangor Twp, criticized the veto.

“Once again, Gov. Whitmer has turned her back on small businesses. Her ridiculous veto shows no mercy to employers that have put in money, time and effort to protect employees and customers,” Beson said in a statement. “Even worse, she refuses to return unconstitutional fines she made businesses pay.”

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