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From legalizing recreational marijuana, to shutting down an oil pipeline, to fundamentally changing the way Michigan politicians are elected and must serve, activists are pushing to get at least eight ballot measures before state voters in 2018.
The stakes are high, but so are the hurdles. And the sheer number of proposals can be dizzying. So we’ve waded through the research and spin surrounding each effort so you don’t have to. What follows is a quickie guide to the ballot drives, what each group wants, their progress to date and the significant obstacles each faces.
Two ballot committees have already submitted petitions to the state’s Bureau of Elections, which will review them to toss out duplicate and invalid signatures before deciding whether they are eligible to appear on the ballot next fall.
Winning a spot in the November general election, when an open governor’s seat will lead the statewide races, requires hundreds of thousands of valid signatures from registered Michigan voters, all collected within a challenging window of 180 days.
Despite a seemingly crowded field of ballot proposals in 2016, no statewide measures appeared that year because they failed to collect the needed signatures.
MORE COVERAGE: Slideshow: 8 Michigan ballot issues in 80 seconds
Next year, at least a few initiatives likely will face legal challenges to the validity of the signatures and, possibly, the proposed ballot language.
Here are the measures that you might vote on in 2018.
Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (Pot for adults)
What is it? A proposed legislative change that would allow Michigan residents 21 and older to legally possess, use, grow and sell marijuana for recreational uses (A second pot measure, below, does not include a minimum age). Currently, Michigan law only allows marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The group’s proposal aims to reduce arrests for marijuana possession among adults and create a legal structure that taxes revenue from marijuana operations and deters black market activity.
The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs would administer the law and come up with rules related to licensing, fees, safety and security and product testing. The proposal would create a 10 percent state excise tax on marijuana sold by retailers, with revenue dedicated for municipalities, counties, public schools and roads.
Under the proposal, it would be illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of marijuana, for a person younger than 21 to possess or use marijuana, or to use marijuana in public or on school grounds. The proposal wouldn’t prevent employers from banning marijuana use at work, or disciplining an employee for violating company drug policies.
Municipalities also would be allowed to ban or limit marijuana establishments within their borders.
The coalition followed recent legislative changes to the state’s medical marijuana law regarding licensing to create a similar structure for both medical and recreational uses, said Josh Hovey, of Lansing-based public relations firm Truscott Rossman and spokesman for the coalition.
Josh Hovey, of Lansing-based public relations firm Truscott Rossman, is the spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. The committee wants to decriminalize recreational use of marijuana in Michigan. (Courtesy photo)
“We’re at a point where the laws and regulations have not caught up with where society’s at with the issue,” Hovey said. “Just like with alcohol, if you take it out of the shadows and you tax it and you regulate it and allow responsible adults to use it responsibly, a lot of the fears that people had about marijuana are shown to be unfounded.”
Who’s behind it? The effort is spearheaded by the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group aiming to decriminalize marijuana across the country. A committee known as MI Legalize, which ran the effort in 2016, has been involved with coordinating volunteers, Hovey said.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in $88,644 in the most recent filing period from July 21 through Oct. 20, according to state campaign finance records. It has raised $606,932 to date this calendar year. It had $6,297 in the bank as of the October reporting deadline.
What’s the status? The coalition on Nov. 20 submitted more than 360,000 signatures of a required 252,523 to the state Bureau of Elections for review. Activists must collect more signatures than required under the law because many are routinely rejected for various reasons.
What’s the opposition say? The Committee to Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools calls the proposal “ill-advised and not in the public interest.” The committee has raised $5,000 so far this calendar year, and had $3,997 in the bank as of Oct. 20, according to state records.
“Their proposal will be creating a system that allows for mass quantities of unregulated, untested and untaxed marijuana to be grown by anybody anywhere, creating a true black market for illegal drugs,” its email statement reads.
Protecting Michigan Taxpayers (Prevailing wage ban)
What is it? A proposed repeal of Public Act 166 of 1965, which sets a prevailing wage — typically union-scale wages and benefits — for state-funded construction projects.
Opponents of Michigan’s prevailing wage law say it artificially inflates the cost of taxpayer-funded building projects. Repealing the law generally is supported by non-union contractors, while union-backed contractors tend to support preserving the law. They see the repeal effort as an attack on labor that would lower wages and weaken training programs at a time when Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration is trying to boost enrollment in skilled trades careers.
Both sides present data to back their claims.
Repealing the law has been a priority of Republicans in the Legislature, specifically Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof. But lawmakers have held off on advancing their own bills, in large part because Snyder opposes repealing the law and could veto legislation.
A citizen-initiated law is different as it’s immune from Snyder’s veto. Should the coalition supporting repeal collect enough valid signatures, the proposal would be sent to the Legislature, which could enact it on its own.
“We’re overcharging taxpayers for public construction projects,” said Jeff Wiggins, state director of Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan and president of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, which supports the proposal. “This is something where we’re starting to see Michigan become less competitive.”
Jeff Wiggins is state director of Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan and president of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, a ballot committee that supports repealing the state’s prevailing wage law. The law requires union-scale wages and benefits be paid to contractors working on state-funded building projects. (Courtesy photo)
Who’s behind it? Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan, a Lansing-based trade group that includes mostly non-union contractors, is leading the repeal effort. It also has the backing of the DeVos-backed Michigan Freedom Fund and the National Federation of Independent Business.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in $530,500 in the most recent filing period from July 21 through Oct. 20, according to state campaign finance records. It has raised more than $1.3 million to date this calendar year. It had nearly $132,592 in the bank as of October.
What’s the status? Protecting Michigan Taxpayers this month submitted more than 380,000 signatures of a required 252,523 to the state Bureau of Elections for review. It hired National Petition Management Inc. to collect signatures.
The effort failed to make the November 2016 ballot after the Las Vegas-based signature collection firm it hired submitted duplicate signatures.
At the time, opponents, including the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, hired Lansing-based attorney John Pirich, a partner at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, to challenge the validity of the signatures. Pat Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the trades council, said Pirich again has been retained to review the signatures for a potential challenge.
Opponents intend to fight the signature-gathering process to keep state election officials from approving it. If they can do that, they can prevent backers of the measure from using the signatures to spur legislation before next year’s election.
“Our goal isn’t to put it on the ballot,” acknowledged Wiggins, of the group supporting the ballot measure. “Our goal is to have the Legislature vote on it as soon as we can get our signatures validated and confirmed.”
What’s the opposition say? Groups including the Michigan Laborers’ District Council, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights and the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association oppose the effort.
A ballot committee called Protect Michigan Jobs has raised $55,000 in the most recent filing period from July 21 through Oct. 20, according to state campaign finance records. It has raised $765,500 to date this calendar year.
“It’s about taking money out of people’s pockets,” Devlin said.
How do I learn more? Read the proposed ballot language here.
Voters Not Politicians (Redistricting reform)
What is it? An effort to redraw the lines that make up Michigan legislators’ districts, a process known as redistricting.
Currently, whichever political party controls the state Legislature decides the boundaries of state and congressional districts every 10 years based on U.S. Census data, which critics say leads to boundaries intended to give unfair advantage to the party in power. Michigan is considered one of the most gerrymandered (unfairly drawn) states in the nation.
In Michigan, Republicans controlled the Legislature and the governor’s office in 2011.
The Voters Not Politicians effort would amend the Michigan Constitution to take away redistricting power from lawmakers and give it to an independent citizens commission made up of 13 registered voters in the state. The Secretary of State would manage the process. Each major party would have four members and the remaining five members would be independent voters. Elected officials in a partisan race, political party officers, lobbyists and any of their employees could not participate.
“People are tired of not being listened to, no matter which political party is in charge of drawing the lines,” said Katie Fahey, the committee’s president and treasurer.
Katie Fahey is the president and treasurer of Voters Not Politicians, a ballot committee aiming to create an independent redistricting commission to allow citizens, not partisan politicians, to redraw legislative district lines every 10 years. (Courtesy photo)
Who’s behind it? Voters Not Politicians has relied on volunteers, rather than paid circulators, to collect signatures.
Fahey wrote a Facebook post shortly after the 2016 election saying she wanted to tackle gerrymandering in Michigan. It took off. Fahey said the coalition today has had more than 10,000 people sign up to volunteer, with nearly 4,000 working directly as petition circulators.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in $70,800 in the most recent filing period from Sept. 12 through Oct. 20, according to state records. It has publicly reported more than $278,297 this calendar year. It had nearly $154,533 in the bank as of the October reporting deadline.
The group says it has hired the Fraser Trebilcock law firm and Lansing-based public relations firm Martin Waymire to help with the ballot drive.
What’s the status? Voters Not Politicians has collected about 370,000 signatures so far, Fahey said, above the required 315,654 for citizen-driven constitutional amendments. She said the group continues to collect signatures, knowing some will be thrown out, and expects to submit the signatures to the state by the end of the year.
What’s the opposition say? An opposition group, Committee to Protect Voters Rights, was formed in October by Republican strategist Bob LaBrant and Eric Doster, a longtime general counsel for the Michigan Republican Party, according to the Associated Press.
Critics have said the citizens commission would be made up of people with little knowledge of drawing district lines and place most of the power in whomever is elected Secretary of State. Opponents, including the Michigan Freedom Fund, have noted that some leaders of the Voters Not Politicians committee — including Fahey — have supported Democratic candidates in past elections.
Fahey said she voted for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and flew to New York for Clinton’s election night party, though she did not donate or volunteer for the campaign.
“I also voted for Republicans in that election, which is the frustrating part that’s never shared,” Fahey said, adding that volunteers for the coalition come from both parties and the proposed independent redistricting commission would be a bipartisan effort.
MI Time to Care (Paid sick leave)
What is it? A legislative effort to allow Michigan workers to accrue paid sick leave for themselves or to care for family members, as well as for victims, or family members of victims, of domestic violence or sexual assault who miss work due to medical care, counseling appointments, legal proceedings or relocation.
Employees would be able to earn at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, capped at 72 hours — the equivalent of nine work days — each year, said Danielle Atkinson, co-chairwoman of the MI Time to Care committee.
Danielle Atkinson is the co-chairwoman of a ballot committee seeking to allow Michigan workers to accrue paid sick leave. (Courtesy photo)
People who work for small companies (fewer than 10 employees), could accrue up to 40 hours, or the equivalent of at least five days, of paid leave each calendar year. They also could earn another 32 hours of unpaid sick leave annually.
Any unused hours can carry over into the next year, Atkinson said, so long as the time remains below the annual cap. Michigan does not require employers to provide paid sick leave for their employees. Eight states and Washington, D.C., have approved similar measures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Atkinson said the proposal has been in the works for years but has gained no traction in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
“It was one of the issues our moms kept talking about,” said Atkinson, also the founder of Royal Oak-based Mothering Justice, an advocacy organization. “The inability to take time off when they were sick or their children were sick was impacting not only their ability to take care of them, but their financial stability.”
Who’s behind it? Mothering Justice is one of the leading organizations behind the MI Time to Care committee, and has contributed $50,000, state records show. Atkinson said a number of grassroots organizations support it.
Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) organization that advocates for social welfare issues, contributed $200,000 to the committee in October, state records show. The Fairness Project, an advocacy group for raising the minimum wage and enacting paid sick leave also based in Washington, has given more than $103,000 so far.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in $300,000 in the most recent filing period from Sept. 9 through Oct. 20, according to state campaign finance records. It has raised $465,010 to date this calendar year. It had $240,378 in the bank as of the October reporting deadline.
What’s the status? Atkinson declined to disclose how many signatures have been gathered thus far of the required 252,523, but said the group’s 180-day deadline is in early spring. She said the committee is “really confident” it will gather enough signatures.
What’s the opposition say? The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is among the proposal’s critics, saying the “one-size-fits-all mandate” would have a “chilling impact” on the state economy.
The proposal “will hit the tourism, hospitality and retail industries and seasonal businesses the hardest,” the chamber posted on its website. “Companies that can afford to provide paid leave typically do. For those that don’t, cost is the driving factor. A paid leave mandate, if approved by voters, will have a chilling impact on these businesses and, ultimately, their employees who may see increased responsibilities, fewer raises, fewer bonuses, reduced hours and even layoffs.”
Clean MI Committee (Part-time legislature)
What is it? A proposed amendment to the Michigan constitution that would turn Michigan’s full-time Legislature into a part-time body that wraps its regular session in April of each year. It also would lower lawmakers’ salaries to be similar to what Michigan public school teachers are paid and eliminate legislators’ pensions and health care in retirement. (Pensions and retiree health care already are eliminated in statute for new House and Senate members.)
It’s part of a broader government reform effort launched by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference in the spring on Mackinac Island.
Michigan is one of 10 states with a full-time Legislature.
Who’s behind it? Calley this month handed the reins of the committee to Tom McMillin, a former Republican state representative and current member of the Michigan State Board of Education. Calley is rumored to be considering a gubernatorial campaign in 2018, though he has not announced he is running.
A news release issued by the committee said the effort is being helped by Dave Agema, a former Republican National Committee member and state representative who has drawn rebukes for anti-gay and anti-Muslim rhetoric; David Dishaw, former Kent County GOP chairman; Norm Kammeraad, a grassroots activist who has worked on the part-time Legislature issue; and CJ Galdes, deputy director of President Donald Trump’s campaign in Michigan.
“The main job is the budget,” McMillin said of the Legislature’s work, adding that a shorter legislative session would force lawmakers to focus only on the most important issues.
“The less time these special interests have to get to them, the better,” said McMillin. “Voters shouldn’t be voting for people who are saying that they’ll need a couple years to figure this out.”
How much money has it raised? The committee took in $369,285 in the most recent filing period from July 21 through Oct. 20, according to state campaign finance records. It has raised $887,174 to date this calendar year. It had $154,053 in the bank as of the October reporting deadline.
What’s the status? McMillin did not disclose the number of signatures that have been gathered so far, though he said the committee has about half of the required 315,654 signatures required for constitutional amendments to make the ballot.
McMillin said the group’s 180-day window closes in January.
What’s the opposition say? Critics, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, say the proposal would alter the balance of power at the Capitol.
The chamber’s statement says the initiative “would dramatically weaken the legislative branch of state government in favor of the executive branch and further empower full-time, non-elected bureaucrats.”
Some business leaders say Michigan’s legislative term limits need to be revisited — possibly extended or even eliminated — to prevent newly minted lawmakers from spending even less time learning how to legislate. Others have wondered aloud whether the proposal would limit the candidate pool to only those who could afford to take 90 days away from their full-time jobs.
Abrogate Prohibition Michigan (Pot for all)
What is it? A proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana for “agricultural, personal, recreational, medicinal, commercial, industrial and other uses.” It would end any ban on pot use, defined here as possession, use, cultivation, delivery and sale, among others. The state would not be allowed to impose any fees, fines, taxes or regulations that would “diminish the use of cannabis.”
Timothy Locke, the Midland resident leading Abrogate Prohibition Michigan, said his interest in a constitutional amendment is to ensure legislators don’t try to rewrite state marijuana laws based on the goals of lobbyists and special interests.
Unlike the other pot initiative, this proposal doesn’t include age restrictions. Locke said one goal is to stop people caught with marijuana from being arrested. That includes children or teens. Parents, rather than the government, should be the ones to address the issue, he said.
Timothy Locke is a Midland resident who is leading Abrogate Prohibition Michigan, a ballot committee looking to end any prohibition of marijuana in the state. (Courtesy photo)
“It gives parents back the authority over their children,” said Locke, who added that he began using marijuana as a teenager in 1980 for medical reasons and has used cannabis regularly for more than 30 years.
Who’s behind it? Locke said the initiative is a grassroots effort. Its website says the ballot committee has at least 286 volunteers.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in $1,330 in the most recent filing period from July 21 through Oct. 20, according to state records. It has raised $1,598 to date this calendar year. It had roughly $275 in the bank as of the October reporting deadline.
What’s the status? Locke said the group is early in collecting signatures. Constitutional amendment committees have until July to submit petitions, though Locke said his 180-day window runs until roughly the end of February.
What’s the opposition say? Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the larger of the two marijuana ballot drives, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said “we just can’t (imagine) the Abrogate proposal getting much traction” without regulations and provisions to keep minors from getting marijuana.
Michigan One Fair Wage (Raise minimum wage)
What is it? A legislative effort to create the Improved Workforce Opportunity Wage Act, which would gradually increase Michigan’s minimum wage to $10 in 2019 and to $12 by 2022. The higher wages also would apply to restaurant workers and other employees who receive tips, who today are paid below minimum wage.
The minimum wage in Michigan today is $8.90, and is set to rise to $9.25 on Jan. 1, 2018. Tipped workers currently earn a minimum of $3.38 per hour before tips, which will go to $3.52 per hour in January.
“If you work a 40-hour (per week) job, you should not have to go and apply for food stamps,” said Alicia Farris, state director of Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, who is leading the initiative. “People deserve to get a decent living.”
The issue is important, Farris said, as the cost of living continues to rise and low-wage workers struggle to afford household necessities for themselves and their families. Higher minimum wages also could improve job retention, as fewer people hop to jobs that pay slightly better, she added.
Who’s behind it? The initiative is backed by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, which advocates for better working conditions for metro Detroit restaurant workers. The group has given $125,000 to the ballot drive. It also has received nearly $300,000 from a ballot committee called Raise Michigan, which has led the initiative in past election cycles.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in $509,500 in the most recent filing period from July 21 through Oct. 20, according to state records. It had nearly all of that amount in the bank as of the October reporting deadline.
What’s the status? Ballot initiatives for legislation have until May 30 to submit 252,523 signatures. Farris said signature collection began Oct. 30 and the group has until the end of April before its 180-day window closes.
What’s the opposition say? The Michigan Restaurant Association opposes the effort. In a statement in September, President and CEO Justin Winslow called the effort “irresponsible and dangerously out of touch.” The group says eliminating tipped wages would hurt the restaurant industry and reduce job opportunities.
Keep Our Lakes Great (Stop Line 5)
What is it? A legislative effort to stop the transmission of crude oil through the Line 5 pipeline beneath the Straits of Mackinac, owned by Canadian energy company Enbridge Inc. The proposed ballot language would end a 1953 pipeline easement in the Straits and require that pipelines that carry crude oil “over, through, under or upon the bottomlands of the Great Lakes” carry a $4 billion bond or insurance and $400 million in surety bonds.
Who’s behind it? The initiative is led by Phil Bellfy, a retired university professor and former Democratic legislative candidate, and Jeff Hank, who also leads the MI Legalize ballot committee that has worked on marijuana decriminalization. Neither could be reached for comment.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in no money during the most recent filing period from July 21 through Oct. 20, according to state campaign finance records. It has raised $3,170 to date this calendar year. It had roughly $634 in the bank as of the October reporting deadline.
What’s the status? The committee could not be reached for comment. Ballot initiatives for legislation have until May 30 to submit 252,523 signatures.
What’s the opposition say? The Michigan Chamber of Commerce opposes the effort “to suddenly and arbitrarily shut down Line 5, a critical oil and gas pipeline that crosses the Straits of Mackinac that has been safely operated for over 60 years.”
The Committee to Ban Fracking
Yet another petition, from The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, was not included on a list of potential 2018 ballot issues by the Secretary of State. The group continues to circulate a petition it started in 2015 to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. The committee is aiming to collect enough signatures to submit to the state in an attempt to challenge the constitutionality of the state's 180-day window for collecting valid signatures from registered Michigan voters and ultimately be placed on the 2018 ballot, said LuAnne Kozma, of Charlevoix, campaign director for the ballot effort.
Kozma said if the committee is successful at gathering the 252,523 signatures needed by May 30, the state likely will reject the petition for having too many signatures collected outside the 180-day limit -- thus prompting the group to challenge the requirement in court. The committee previously sued in 2016; in March 2017, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the lawsuit was premature and the committee would have to challenge the law after the signatures were collected.
Committee website: http://www.letsbanfracking.org/