GREAT LAKES BEACON

State Senator Calls on AG About GOP Attempts to Undo Petition Drives

A Detroit-area state senator is asking Attorney General Dana Nessel to weigh in on the Republican-led legislature’s action of “adopting” a citizen initiative to keep it off the ballot and then gutting it in time for former Governor Rick Snyder’s signature.

In September, the legislature took up approved petitions on earned paid sick time and increasing the minimum wage, respectively. They were then passed, but not presented to the governor until after the legislature gutted them in December. Former Governor Rick Snyder then signed the gutted petitions – which ran counter to the intent of the petitions in the first place – into law.

MI Time to Care, the group behind the paid sick time petition affected, welcomed the request for opinion.

“We have a Constitution for a reason, and it is appalling some in the legislature decided to ignore it and the will of the people,” said Danielle Atkinson, founding director of Mothering Justice and co-chair of MI Time to Care. “We are hopeful Attorney General Nessel will issue an opinion reaffirming the right of people to use ballot measures to pass important policies like earned paid sick time without legislative obstruction.”

Indeed, had the legislature decided not to take up the approved petitions, the state Constitution dictates they would have been on the November ballot for voters to decide. Instead, voters were not afforded the opportunity to give their opinion on the issues.

“What the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature did to the minimum wage and paid sick leave citizen-led initiatives subverted the will of nearly 400,000 Michigan citizens who signed the petitions and is possibly unconstitutional,” Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), who is calling on Nessel’s opinion, said of her decision. “The people of Michigan deserve to have a clear understanding of what their rights are when petitioning the state to enact or change laws.”

The controversy at hand also stems from former Attorney General Bill Schuette’s Opinion No. 7306, which directly contradicted former Attorney General Frank Kelley’s Opinion No. 4303 of 1964 that stated the Legislature cannot pass and amend citizen petitions in the same legislative session without violating the spirit and letter of Article II, Sec. 9 of the Michigan Constitution.

Specifically, Chang is asking Nessel to address:

  • Article II, Section 9 of the Michigan Constitution of 1963 prohibits the Legislature from enacting a voter-initiated law and subsequently amending it during the same legislative session; and,
  • If the enactment and amending of Public Acts 337 and 338 of 2018 in the same legislative session are violations of Article II, Section 9.

It was not immediately clear what would happen if Nessel finds the previous legislature acted unconstitutionally in its “adopt and amend” strategy, though it is within her legal right to order the laws passed in September – which were the original petitions – take effect.

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson