Michigan lawmakers early Friday sent legislation to Gov. Rick Snyder that would impose a host of new hurdles to bringing citizen initiatives to the ballot.
The Senate voted 26-12 on House Bill 6595, which would require ballot measure organizers get no more than 15 percent of signatures from each of the state’s 14 congressional districts. The measure also requires signature gatherers to register as paid or volunteer and face misdemeanors if they misrepresent themselves.
Proponents say the measure is a good government reform to add transparency to a process that increasingly is being funded by out-of-state interests. Critics say it’s blatantly unconstitutional and will dramatically deter ballot measures.
The reform follows three successful ballot measures in November that created a citizen commission to draw political districts, legalize marijuana and ease voting access.
Bill sponsor Rep. Jim Lower, R-Cedar Lake, told Bridge Magazine last week he proposed the legislation because he was surprised so many constituents didn’t know those measures were financed by out-of-state groups.
“There wasn’t really any transparency on that, people just thought it was a citizen-led effort and that’s just what it was,” Lower said.
The limits on signatures would require initiatives to have buy-in from residents throughout the state before appearing on the ballot, he said. Now, signature gatherers can focus on southeast Michigan, which is home to about half of the state’s population.
The proposal has support from business groups such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Association of Michigan.
But those across the political spectrum have objected to the bill.
Early Friday, the League of Women Voters of Michigan tweeted that the bill makes “petition drives impossible” and urged followers to ask Snyder to veto them.
Genevieve Marnon, legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan, told a House committee the bill would cause “an administrative nightmare.”
Several question its constitutionality, including Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, a Republican.
He said the current rules are “sufficiently tough.”
“This is really a solution in search of a problem,” added Erica Peresman, an executive committee member of Promote the Vote, which successfully organized a ballot initiative to enshrine a series of voting rights in the state constitution.