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GOP-led Michigan senate passes bills banning vaccine and mask mandates in schools

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The Michigan Senate on Tuesday passed a series of bills that would ban vaccine and mask mandates to stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools. 

The votes were along party lines with the Republican majority pushing them through. 

Republican senators said they want parents to have the final decision on whether their children are vaccinated or wear masks in school.

Sen. Lana Theis, a Brighton Republican, said it doesn’t matter that masks and vaccinations are effective in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.  “We introduced these bills, regardless of the efficacy of masks and vaccines at combating COVID-19, because the parents are responsible for their children’s health and well-being, not the bureaucracy,” Theis said.

Sen. Tom Barrett, a Republican representing Charlotte, said that mask and vaccine rules for kids are government overreach. “That’s why we need legislation that protects and defines clearly — draws a line in the sand — and says these are our rights as parents that the government cannot cross." 

Michigan schools already require many vaccines at enrollment and a process exists for vaccine exemptions. 

Sen. Curtis Hertel, an East Lansing Democrat, said the bills are unnecessary. 

“Again, it would be easy to dismiss this as just political games if it wasn’t so damn dangerous to the future of this state,” he said. 

A recent University of Michigan study showed there were fewer outbreaks and illnesses in school districts where mask mandates were in place.

Democratic Sen. Erika Geiss of Taylor said the science shows masks and vaccines help keep kids from catching the coronavirus. 

“Let me hit you with some facts. Some top headlines: ‘Schools without mask mandates more likely to have COVID outbreak, study says.’ ‘CDC: COVID outbreaks far higher at schools without mask mandates.’ ‘More outbreaks infecting more students at Michigan schools.’ That’s just the top three just from a simple Google search.” 

One bill would also prevent schools from testing asymptomatic kids for the disease. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — who on Tuesday directed the state to expedite the ordering of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 so that it will be quickly available once the federal government gives it the green light — would likely veto the bills if they reach her desk. 

Emergency approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to inoculate kids 5 and up is expected early next month.