(Posted May 20) It looks like that will be the case.
It’s never been easy for petitioners to get the money and “people” power to collect sufficient signatures to force a statewide vote on any issue, and it just got harder.
Majority Republicans in the state House and Senate on Wednesday passed a bill (SB 776) that, with immediate effect, short-circuits efforts by petitioners on a whole raft of issues — particularly a ban on fracking and legalizing all-purpose marijuana — to get proposals on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Believe it or not, the last time there were NO initiatives or initiated constitutional amendments on the statewide ballot in a presidential year was nearly three decades ago — in 1988, when Republican George W. Bush defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis, winning all of Michigan’s electoral votes in the process. That was the last time a GOP presidential nominee has done that.
Michigan is one of 21 states where citizens have the power to propose and enact laws, via the initiative process and by amending the state Constitution.
More significantly, Michigan is one of only FIVE states that have what is called an “indirect statutory initiative” clause in its Constitution. It’s called “indirect’ because if 252,523 valid signatures are collected this year (that’s 8% of the total votes cast for governor in the last election) and certified by the Board of State Canvassers, the proposed statute is forwarded NOT to the voters but to the Legislature.
16 other states have what is called “direct statutory initiative.” In those states, after signatures are collected and certified as sufficient, the proposal goes directly to the ballot for voter approval or rejection without ANY involvement by the Legislature.
Under the Michigan Constitution, the Legislature has 40 session days (an Attorney General’s opinion says in this context that means 40 calendar days) to enact, on an “up-or-down” vote, the proposed legislation by both houses of the Legislature (which is now 20 yea votes in the Senate, 55 yea votes in the House because there are currently only 109 reps elected and serving).
The Michigan Constitution, in Article II, Section 9, provides that after passage by the Legislature the statutory initiative becomes law. The governor does not have to sign, nor does he have the power to veto a statutory initiative.
The Legislature CANNOT amend a statutory initiative., The Legislature may only reject or ignore a statutory initiative if it doesn’t approve it. If, after 40 session days, the initiative is not enacted, it is placed on the next general election statewide ballot (Nov. 8 this year) for voter approval or rejection.
Bob LaBrant, election law guru for the Sterling Corporation, points out that the Legislature is also permitted under the Constitution to pass a different measure on the same subject and have that legislative alternative placed on the ballot along with the statutory initiative (this has actually happened, a number of times). If BOTH the statutory initiative and the legislative alternative receive voter approval but have provisions that conflict, the one receiving the highest number of affirmative votes prevails.
It takes time for state Elections Bureau staff to examine petition sheets, conduct a random sample of submitted signatures, and review challenges to those signatures. In addition, it takes time for the state Canvassers to certify that enough signatures have been collected and then provide the Legislature with 40 session days to act on a statutory initiative. So, this year, the Dept. of State established that June 1 would be the deadline for submitting statutory initiative petition signatures.
In the past year and a half, eight ballot questions have had their petitions for a statutory initiative approved as to form (before they started collecting signatures) by the state Canvassers. Here they are:
1) Enact a Fair Medical Prices for Consumers statute.
2) Enact amendments to to the Natural Resources Environmental Protection Act to prohibit the use of horizontal hydraulic fracking.
3) Repeal the state Prevailing Wage and Fringe Benefits Act.
4) Enact a Michigan Cannabis Control and Revenue Act.
5) Enact a Michigan Marijuana Legalization, Regulation and Economic Stimulus Act.
6) Enacted an Earned Sick Time Act.
7) Enact a Corporate Fair Share of Taxes Act.
8) Enact amendments to the Michigan Motor Vehicle Manufacturers and Dealership Act to allow car manufacturers to allow car builders like Tesla to sell their autos directly to consumers, not requiring their sale through dealerships.
Right now, it doesn’t look like any of those proposals are likely to get on the ballot.
To be sure, marijuana supporters and fracking opponents have been very busy in gathering petition signatures. However, many of their signatures have been collected outside a 180-day “window” immediately preceding their filing their petitions with the SoS — making those John Hancocks “stale” and therefore invalid under state law. Since 1986, a state signature’s invalidity could be “rebutted” through a very complicated process that has never been utilized successfully.
Next comes SB 776, which says “Let’s just get rid of this ‘rebuttable presumption’ altogether. Petitioners must complete their petition drives — whether statutory or constitutional — within the 180-day window, period.” Such a fixed-time period is just like the deadline in the state’s recall election law wherein a petition drive must be completed within 60 days of the filing deadline.
This past Wednesday (May 18), the House narrowly passed SB 776, already approved by the Senate. The vote was 57-52, with all Democrats opposing and six Republicans voting “No” as well. The measure was given Immediate Effect by the House, despite loud protests from minority Democrats. The bill now awaits Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature.
The fracking and marijuana petitions are likely doomed (in mid-stroke) by this legislative action, although a lawsuit may be filed in federal court challenging the 180-day deadline as a violation of the First Amendment and because an argument could be made that the measure should not have gutted the petitioners’ efforts retroactively.
What about Constitutional amendments, though? Hasn’t that been the preferred course of action by ballot petitioners during the past decade?
Michigan is one of only 18 states that permit citizens to propose constitutional amendment by initiative petition, which would place the proposed amendment on a statewide ballot for voter approval. Michigan requires at least 315,654 signatures (10% of the total vote cast for governor in the last election) to get such a proposal before the voters this year. The filing deadline for constitutional amendment petitions will be July 11. There are four constitutional amendment petitions that have been approved as to form by the state Canvassers up to this point, but none look likely to succeed in their signature-gathering efforts by July 11. Here they are:
1) Let’s Vote Michigan (require voting by mail, like Oregon).
2) Fair Michigan (prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, gender identity, sex or sexual orientation).
3) Abrogate Prohibition Michigan (legalize use of cannabis).
4) Hold Government Accountable (establish a new method for removing public officials from office on the grounds of “betraying your oath of office,” to be enforced by a “People’s Grand Jury”).
Michigan’s Constitution, in Article XII, Section 1, also permits the Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the general election ballot by passage of a joint resolution by a 2/3 majority in each legislative chamber (26 votes in the Senate and, currently, 73 votes in the House). The deadline for such legislative action would be 60 days before the general election (Sept. 8 of this year). 56 joint resolutions have been introduced in the Legislature as of May 18. Neither the House nor Senate has yet passed a joint resolution this session and sent it to the other chamber.
Wednesday, House Republicans introduced HJR MM and HB 5677, which, taken together, would “reform Michigan’s Civil Service system and give state departments the ability to discipline or remove dangerous government bureaucrats.” Minority Democrats in the state House blasted the proposals as efforts to deflect blame for the Flint “water crisis” from the Snyder administration by targeting beleaguered state employees. Unless Democrats supply the GOP with a minimum of 18 votes for the necessary 2/3 majority to get this proposal on the ballot, it isn’t going anywhere — and they won’t.
See how hard it is?