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Proposal 1 Michigan: What term limits ballot measure would change

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Proposal 1 would limit lawmakers’ terms to 12 years total and strengthen financial disclosure rules.
  • Voters for Transparency and Term Limits will appear as Proposal 1 on the Michigan ballot
  • It would apply a flat 12-year cap on state lawmakers’ tenure and establish stricter rules on financial disclosure
  • Proponents say it would promote good government and improve transparency, but opponents slam the initiative as deceiving and misleading

Oct. 4: Michigan Proposal 1: What would change if voters approve term-limits law

LANSING — Michigan voters will decide how long state lawmakers should stay in office and what financial information they should disclose when they consider Proposal 1 on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Voting “yes” would apply a flat 12-year term limit to lawmakers’ tenure and strengthen financial disclosure rules for state elected officials, such as the governor, secretary of state, attorney general and all 148 state lawmakers.

Sponsor

Voting “no” would maintain the status quo, which allows lawmakers to serve up to six years in the House and eight years in the Senate, with no financial disclosure requirements for the state’s top elected officials.

Related:

The measure is the only constitutional amendment proposal the state Legislature voted to place on the November ballot. 

The language stems from a ballot proposal spearheaded by the bipartisan coalition Voters for Transparency and Term Limits, which is led by Rich Studley, former CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and Mark Gaffney, former president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.

In May, state lawmakers weakened the original language and voted — with little debate or public notice ahead of time — to present the measure before voters in November.

Proponents of the initiative have argued it would strengthen transparency and allow lawmakers to serve longer in one chamber but reduce the overall cap on their tenure. Opponents, however, argued lawmakers voted to lengthen their time in the state Legislature and criticized the initiative as a “scam.”

The November ballot will include a summary of the term limits and financial disclosure proposal, but you can read the full petition language here.

Here’s a detailed look at the petition.

What would Proposal 1 do?

  • Amend the state constitution to reduce the maximum length lawmakers can serve in the Legislature from 14 years to 12 years, but allow them to serve the full tenure in one chamber. Lawmakers elected for Senate in 2022 would still be subject to the current term limits.
  • Require state lawmakers, the governor, the secretary of state and the state attorney general to disclose certain financial information, including:

    - description of assets
    - sources of all forms of income
    - description of liabilities 
    - positions held outside their elected office
    - arrangements regarding future employment
    - continuing benefits from former employers other than the state
    - payments and gifts received from registered lobbyists

What’s the status quo on term limits and financial disclosure?

  • Fifteen states had legislative term limits as of Aug. 20, according to the national advocacy group U.S. Term Limits, which opposes the proposal.
  • Currently, lawmakers can serve up to six years in the Michigan House and eight years in the Senate — among the strictest in the 15 states.
  • Only California and Oklahoma had flat 12-year term limits on lawmakers as of November 2020, according to the nonprofit National Conference of State Legislatures. 
  • One study has found the current term limits have failed to live up to promises of ridding the state of career politicians, but some polls still suggest term limits are popular among Michigan voters.
  • More than 300 current and former lawmakers barred under current rules from running again for the state House would be eligible to run again if the measure is approved, Gongwer reported.
  • On financial disclosures, Michigan and Idaho are the only two states that do not require elected or appointed public officials to disclose personal financial information.

How is Proposal 1 different from its original version?

In short, the financial disclosure rules in Proposal 1 were watered down by the state Legislature in May.

For example, the original version would have required state public officials to disclose income, assets and payments received from anyone — a standard matching what is required of congressional members.

The version that’s on the ballot now and approved by the Legislature, however, only requires lawmakers to disclose “sources” of income and assets and match gift reporting requirements for registered lobbyists.

What do proponents say?

Voters for Transparency and Term Limits backed the proposal in its current form.

Studley, the former state Chamber of Commerce CEO and a Republican, in July said the measure would “deliver the kind of good government Michigan deserves.” 

On term limit changes, former House Speaker Jase Bolger, a Republican, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a Democrat, previously said the initiative would allow lawmakers to stay longer in one chamber and remove the incentives for them to prioritize election to another chamber over their constituents.

Proponents say that longer terms would also bring in a better crop of lawmakers and make them less prone to influence from lobbyists because they would have more time to learn the nuances of writing and passing legislation.

What do opponents say?

Opponents include Patrick Anderson, who drafted the 1992 term limit laws that are currently in place. Anderson said the proposal “would allow both current legislators to serve up to twice as long and former legislators to come back.”

Scott Tillman, treasurer of ballot question committee No More Time for Career Politicians, said the point of term limits is to create turnover in the Legislature. “Term limits make sure that every so often there is an open seat … so people run up against those incumbents at those intervals.”

Critics of the proposal have also attacked the swift vote state lawmakers cast in May to place the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot, calling it an “ambush.” They have argued the proposal is drafted by “politicians and lobbyists” who “make money off their connection to government.”

Sponsor

Who is backing the proposal?

Voters for Transparency and Term Limits, the bipartisan coalition, is the original sponsor of the measure. It has received endorsements from organizations such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan AFL-CIO, Michigan Education Association and the West Michigan Policy Forum, among others.

Who is opposing the proposal?

No More Time for Career Politicians, a ballot question committee, is opposing the initiative. Tillman, national field director for U.S. Term Limits, is the treasurer of the committee. Others opposing include Anderson, the author of current term limits, and Kurt O’Keefe, a bankruptcy attorney in St Clair Shores.

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