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Opinion | People should approve ballot initiatives, not Michigan legislators

Ah, the telltale signs that Michigan spring is approaching: the snow is melting, the potholes are reappearing, and throngs of petition circulators are positioning themselves outside your grocery store and post office to collect signatures for their ballot proposals.

Jeremy Moss
Jeremy Moss is a Democratic state senator from Southfield. (Courtesy photo)

The Michigan Constitution guarantees that citizens can put an initiative on the ballot if they gather enough valid signatures. Most people who sign a petition for an initiative expect they will eventually be voting on it.

Except some of these petitioners know as they gather your signature, their proposal is never intended to make it to the ballot at all.

A proposal with enough signatures first appears before the state Legislature, where a simple majority vote in each chamber could adopt it without sending it to a public vote. And we’ve seen shameful tactics deployed in the Legislature to fast-track some proposals and prevent others from ever becoming law.

In 2018, Republican lawmakers adopted two ballot initiatives that received enough support through signatures for a public vote to increase the minimum wage and require employers to offer earned paid sick leave.

Instead of sending it to the ballot, the Republican majority, however, simply adopted the proposal into law with no intention of keeping those initiatives as they were written, later gutting the contents of these proposals — again with a simple majority vote. This “adopt and amend” strategy is designed to subvert the will of the people.

And petition circulators themselves are sometimes complicit in utilizing underhanded schemes, often by telling voters lies about the contents of their petitions to gather more signatures.

That is in part how the Unlock Michigan petition came before the Legislature for adoption last summer to undo pandemic-related health orders, prompting the Michigan attorney general to launch an investigation based on evidence that volunteers were coached to give false information to voters about the proposal.

We must give the power back to the people and take it away from those who manipulate the process in their favor.

That’s why I’m introducing a Senate Joint Resolution that will create a constitutional amendment to increase the threshold for the Legislature to pass a ballot measure on its own — from a simple majority to three-quarters of each chamber.

My resolution ensures the Legislature would need a more reasonable consensus to adopt an initiative and if it cannot reach a three-quarters majority to approve it, it must go to the ballot.

This threshold also makes sense because a three-fourths vote is currently required for the Legislature to go back and amend a proposal approved by voters at the ballot. We should require the same broad support for initiatives adopted by the Legislature.

The proposal adds onto legislation I introduced earlier this session to hold ballot proposal organizers accountable if they employ circulators who intentionally misrepresent their petition while seeking signatures.

Cracking down on these deceptive tools will restore honesty and integrity to a process that was originally intended to increase public participation in our government and instead has been exploited by bad actors working to diminish it.

The initiative process in Michigan’s Constitution was meant for the people to enact their own laws, and it ought to be preserved accordingly.

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