UPDATED: Whitmer vetoes keep deer baiting ban, road commission contract rules in place

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office)

LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) - Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed two bills Thursday that were backed by Upper Michigan legislators: One that would have overturned a deer baiting and feeding ban and another that would have allowed longer installment contracts for county road commissions in rural counties.

The governor's office announce the expected vetoes in a statement Thursday morning.

House Bill 4687 would have removed the Natural Resources Commission's authority to regulate deer baiting and feeding, and instead would have allowed any person to engage in baiting and feeding during the open season for deer or elk.

The Republican-led Senate approved the bill 21-14 last month, mostly on party lines, after making some changes to the bill a week after it cleared the GOP-controlled House.

Per the commission's order, baiting and feeding are currently banned in the Lower Peninsula and in the Upper Peninsula core Chronic Wasting Disease surveillance areas. The Michigan DNR says using bait to lure deer closer to hunters increases the chances of CWD or bTB spreading to other deer, as deer feed in groups and oftentimes nose-to-nose. As the number of cases of these diseases increase, so do the chances that domestic animals, including dairy cows and beef cows, are exposed to the disease.

"I remain fully committed to protecting Michigan's wildlife, public health, and agriculture jobs," said Whitmer, in a statement. "This legislation would've increased the chance of spreading wildlife disease within wildlife populations and the beef and dairy industries, which are vital to Michigan's economy. That's not a risk we can afford to take. By vetoing this legislation, the authority to ban baiting and feeding will remain with the experts at the Natural Resources Commission, in accordance with the will of the overwhelming number of Michiganders who supported proposal G. Leaving the ban in place will allow the state to continue working to curb the spread of diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease."

Whitmer noted that Michigan voters decided to give authority for wildlife management to the Natural Resources Commission.

House Bill 4120, sponsored by State Reps. Greg Markanen, Beau LaFave and Sara Cambensy, would have amended the county road law to allow county road commissions a 30-year installment contract, instead of the current 15-year maximum. The bill would limit this to counties with a population of 100,000 or less. Whitmer says this unfairly discriminates against larger counties.

"I believe that all counties across Michigan deserve access to the same contracts for their road commissions," said Whitmer. "That is why I am eager to work with the Legislature to pass a bill that includes all 83 of Michigan's counties so we can continue to improve infrastructure all across the state."

The veto means the Keweenaw County Road Commission will have to revisit its plans for a new building.

State Reps. Greg Markkanen and Beau LaFave criticized this veto, calling it another attempt by Gov. Whitmer to shortchange rural areas. The two Republicans say Whitmer originally supported the proposal to create flexibility for critical building updates.

The legislation gave the Keweenaw County Road Commission a chance to move forward with a proposal to replace an outdated maintenance facility.

Current law, which dates back to 1909, requires county road commissions to limit the payments to 15 years or less when purchasing property for public use – a window sometimes too demanding for smaller communities. Other municipal units have more flexibility and can currently finance such payments over 30 years.

“The law we were trying to update is just a little bit older than our maintenance building,” said Markkanen, of Hancock, noting in a statement that the facility in question is 103 years old. “Past inspections have revealed structural problems with this facility and issues with electrical, mechanical and HVAC systems. Many modern vehicles can’t fit inside and repairs must occur outside where the vehicles are exposed to harsh elements and unnecessary wear and tear."

“This bill would have helped make roads safer for Northern Michigan," continued Markkanen. "For our community and rural areas across Michigan, this veto is as cold as the conditions in which these future repairs will have to take place.”

LaFave, of Iron Mountain, reacted to the decision bluntly.

“Whiplash Whitmer originally promised a signature for this plan and then reneged on that promise," said LaFave, in a statement. "A lot of effort was spent working with her office to understand this issue and why change was needed. But she either doesn’t understand measures that work for the Upper Peninsula, at best, or simply refuses to support U.P. communities and people, at worst."

“The governor says she wants to work with the Legislature to cultivate a roads plan and establish trust and dependability within a split government, but that’s utterly laughable when she can’t even follow through on allowing a rural county to erect a new maintenance shed," said LaFave.

Remodeling the facility to fit the road commission’s needs would cost an estimated $1.8 million. A new structure, with added office space, could be built for $1.5 million.

The plan had received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Markkanen vowed to continue fighting for a solution and the legislators called on the governor’s office to work to develop a plan of action she would sign into law.

This story will be updated as more Upper Michigan lawmakers react to the vetoes.