House Dems want to ensure the Legislature stays out of citizen-led initiatives

Democrats' minimum wage press conference, March 7, 2019 | Nick Manes

As petitions for two anti-abortion ballot initiatives are circulating throughout Michigan, several House Democrats are working to take the Legislature out of the citizen-led initiative process and allow eligible measures to go directly to voters.

“Allowing the Legislature to exert its political will on the ballot initiative process undermines the core [tenets] of our democracy,” said state Rep. Lori Stone (D-Warren), who introduced the joint resolution. “The future of this state belongs to the people of Michigan and we must take action to ensure every resident has the opportunity to exercise their right to use their voice and their vote to write the next chapter of our shared story.”

Rep. Lori Stone talks about her resolution on ballot initiatives, Dec. 11, 2019 | House Democrats photo

Under Michigan Law, citizens don’t have to wait for lawmakers to act and can initiate state laws through the petition process. The process requires citizens to gather a certain number of signatures from registered voters. 

But this doesn’t mean the citizen-led process skips the Legislature completely. 

Once the petition reaches the necessary amount of signatures, the Legislature must either adopt the proposal, or reject it and send it to the ballot.

Stone, along with state Reps. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) and Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.), are proposing a joint resolution that would allow all initiatives that receive the required amount of signatures to go straight to voters.

The joint resolution will need two-thirds support in both chambers of the GOP-controlled Legislature — which is unlikely — and would then have to get voter approval. 

Snyder signs neutered minimum wage, sick time bills

Last year, the GOP-led Legislature stirred controversy after adopting two ballot initiatives, MI Time to Care and One Fair Wage, so they didn’t go on the statewide November 2018 ballot, where they were expected to pass. Following the election, lawmakers passed legislation that altered the measures significantly.  

The ballot initiatives would have mandated employer-paid sick time to 72 hours per year and raised the minimum wage from its current rate of $9.25 per hour to $12 per hour by 2022.

During the final days of the Lame Duck session, the Legislature passed new bills that watered down the initial measures, which resulted in a minimum wage of $12 per hour by 2030 and mandated only 40 hours of employer-paid sick time. 

“By adopting only to amend the MI Time to Care and One Fair Wage ballot initiatives last year, the Republican-led Legislature stole from our people who were simply fighting for the Michigan values this state was built upon: fair wages and right to care for ourselves, and our loved ones, without risking our job or economic security,” said Elder, chair of the Michigan Legislative Labor Caucus. 

Now pro-choice advocates are concerned Republicans will adopt two anti-abortion ballot initiatives to prevent them from reaching voters. 

Gov. backs Reproductive Health Act to repeal anti-abortion laws

One of the petitions, backed by Michigan Right to Life, would ban the dilation and evacuation abortion procedure. The other initiative collecting signatures, put forward by the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition, would ban doctors from conducting abortions after cardiac activity is detected, at roughly six weeks of pregnancy.

“Last year, anti-union groups knew voters wouldn’t pass their proposal to repeal prevailing wage so they asked the Legislature to bail them out by adopting it,” Brixie said in a statement. “Now [Right to Life] is using this provision for a fourth time to attack our constitutional reproductive rights in Michigan. No more lies and deception, let the people vote on all ballot proposals, starting with this constitutional amendment.”

Planned Parenthood, Mothering Justice, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Service Employees International Union and United Steelworkers support the joint resolution.