Presidential, congressional and state House candidates are on the Nov. 3 general election ballot in Michigan.
But there are also issues before voters, although not as many as in recent history. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out ballot initiative efforts for LGBTQ rights, lobbying reform and a progressive income tax, as it was too difficult to gather enough signatures to get these measures on the 2020 ballot.
There are two statewide initiatives that may be unfamiliar to voters. Both of these constitutional amendments were placed on the ballot by the Legislature. Here’s your guide to what these measures would do.
Proposal 1: Changes to two key Michigan conservation funds
Proposal 1 suggests changing elements of two state park-related funds: the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (NRTF) and the State Park Endowment Fund (SPEF).
The NRTF has gone through many iterations. It’s mainly been used to award money to the state’s 83 counties for acquiring land for conservation and recreation. The SPEF, approved in 1994, requires the Legislature to appropriate funds for state park development and upkeep from the NRTF.
In this case, an amendment would revise the Michigan Constitution “to allow money from oil and gas mining on state-owned lands to continue to be collected in state funds for land protection and creation and maintenance of parks, nature areas, and public recreation facilities; and to describe how money in those state funds can be spent,” according to the ballot title.
If approved by Michigan voters, Proposal 1 would do the following:
- Allow the State Parks Endowment Fund to continue receiving money from sales of oil and gas from state-owned lands to improve, maintain and purchase land for state parks, and for fund administration, until its balance reaches $800 million.
- Require subsequent oil and gas revenue from state-owned lands to go into the Natural Resources Trust Fund.
- Require at least 20% of SPEF annual spending go toward state park improvement.
- Require at least 25% of NRTF annual spending go toward parks and public recreation areas and at least 25% toward land conservation.
The amendment would also revoke a $500 million limit that the NRTF reached in 2011. Once the SPEF reaches its own $800 million limit from oil and gas sales, money from additional sales would filter back into the NRTF instead of the state General Fund.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) projects the SPEF to reach that $800 million cap in the 2050s.
The proposed amendment came into focus in January 2018, when it was introduced as a joint resolution in the Michigan Senate.
The Michigan House approved it 107-0 and the state Senate approved it 37-0 in December 2018, with three representatives and one senator not voting. That set it up for placement on the 2020 ballot.
There are two ways a constitutional amendment can be added to Michigan ballots: by voter-led initiatives or via the state Legislature. For Proposal 1, it’s the latter.
A support campaign for Proposal 1 is being led by Vote Yes for MI Water, Wildlife and Parks, which bills itself as “a coalition of outdoor advocates, business leaders and labor across the partisan spectrum.”
DTE Energy is a corporate supporter of the proposal. Other supporting organizations include the Michigan Environment Council, Michigan Trails and Greenway Alliance, Michigan Forest Products Council, Detroit Greenways Coalition, Environment Michigan and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among others.
Proposal 1 has some opposition. The Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, a grassroots environment organization, has urged voters to vote “no” on changes to the NRTF because the proposal hinges on continued fossil fuel usage.
“Requiring revenue from a non-renewable source to go to ongoing, increasing funding needs creates financial problems, it doesn’t solve them,” the chapter stated. “If we are to mitigate climate change, we need to protect and preserve land, and we need to find new revenue sources for the MNRTF as we work to get ourselves off of fossil fuels.”
The Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a nonprofit think tank, said it’s almost impossible to predict what the state’s budget needs will look like decades from now. It’s hard to tell if the extra revenue would be best used for NRTF projects, the organization said.
“Earmarking future state revenue, especially funding that will not be available for some 30 years from today, will tie future lawmakers’ hands when it comes to making budget decisions,” the organization wrote in their assessment. “Proposal 1 might ensure funding for MNRTF projects in perpetuity, but it does so at the expense of all other current and future state-funded programs or projects.”
Proposal 2: Should a warrant be required to search a person’s electronic data?
Proposal 2 asks Michigan voters to decide if the state Constitution needs an amendment requiring law enforcement officers to obtain a search warrant in order to access a person’s electronic data and communications.
If passed by voters, the measure would designate electronic data and electronic communications as personal property and require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant with reasonable cause before accessing them.
Unreasonable search and seizure — which is prohibited by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — applies if a search is conducted without a court-ordered warrant or without probable cause.
Proposal 2 also was referred to the 2020 ballot by the Legislature.
State Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) first introduced the amendment to the state Senate in June 2019. Both houses in June 2020 unanimously voted to add it to the Nov. 3 ballot.
The proposed amendment could serve to provide stronger protections to citizens concerned about their privacy, according to an assessment from the Citizens Research Council.
But electronic property issues are ever-changing and complex. Several police practices already seek warrants for search and seizure of electronic data and communications, the organization wrote.
“While we want to be sure that this information is protected against unreasonable searches, it is not clear how much would change because of Proposal 2,” said Eric Lupher, president of the Citizens Research Council.
Putting the issue on a Michigan ballot comes six years after the U.S. Supreme Court decided a warrant is needed to search a person’s cell phone during an arrest.
In their unanimous 2014 rule in Riley v. California, Supreme Court justices decided law enforcement officers can’t look through phone data without a search warrant.
“The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a 28-page court opinion. “Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant.”