Michigan House OKs bill that would ban state 'vaccine passports'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House voted 62-47 Wednesday on legislation that would ban state and local agencies from developing a vaccine passport or vaccine requirement to receive state services. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office has said no COVID-19 vaccine passport has been proposed in Michigan, but House lawmakers have couched it as a preemptive measure against such a policy.

Many of the appropriations bills passed by the House include boilerplate language preventing state agencies from requiring proof of vaccination for service. A separate House bill that has not yet had a hearing would prohibit employers from requiring a vaccine or forcing an employee to disclose whether he or she had a vaccination. 

This undated photo provided by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control shows a fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination card. Michigan House voted to ban state and local agencies from developing a vaccine passport or vaccine requirement to receive state services

The state confirmed again that it was not exploring the concept of a vaccine passport or discussing vaccine mandates. 

"Instead of working with us to promote these life-saving vaccines, Republicans are wasting time holding meetings with out-of-state conspiracy theorists and banning things that don’t exist," Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy said. 

A House Fiscal Agency analysis found the bill was "flawed on many accounts" because it wasn't clear whether the language would restict state efforts to increase vaccination or private efforts to check the vaccination status of customers or employees.

"...the bill may have unintended consequences that could inadvertently restrict the choices of citizens or limit emergency responses in the face of a virulent strain posing a threat to public safety," the analysis said.

Four Democratic lawmakers joined Republicans in support of the bill.

But Rep. Sue Allor, the Wolverine Republican who sponsored the bill, argued few people predicted the toll the coronavirus pandemic would have on civil liberties prior to the issuing of executive orders prevalent through much of the past 14 months. 

"Did we ever dream that something like this would occur? Did we ever think this type of discussion would become a reality?” Allor said of rumors of vaccine passports.

"We need to make our stance known. The control of one’s life based on his or her vaccination status is frightening," she said. 

Michigan House of Representatives is seen in this file photo from 2018.

Rep. Julie Rodgers, D-Kalamazoo, criticized the bill, arguing the House had more important legislation to consider than bills anticipating a "phantom" vaccine passport.

"Instead of worrying about phantom bills that don’t exist, this body should be focusing on bringing home all the federal COVID dollars due to Michigan," Rodgers said. 

Included among the government entities covered by the legislation are public universities, some of which have imposed vaccine requirements for students living in university housing. Universities usually are considered constitutionally autonomous from the Legislature and state government, so it's unclear what the effect of the bill would be on them.

Allor said she'd leave that debate "up to the legal experts."

A little more than 59% of Michigan residents over the age of 16 have received at least a first dose of the vaccine. The state's vaccination goal is for 70% of the state's population over the age of 16 receives the vaccine, but growth has slowed in recent weeks. 

Last month, Whitmer lifted the state's mask mandate for vaccinated people. On Tuesday, capacity restrictions on outdoor events were lifted and capacity at indoor events — such as weddings, funerals and graduation parties — increased to 50%.

On July 1, the governor plans to lift the remaining gathering and mask mandates for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, bringing life largely back to normal. 

But each of Whitmer's orders allows employers to require masks for workers.