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Proposed changes to term limits officially headed to Michigan ballot

michigan supreme court
The court tossed out a challenge arguing the proposed initiative shouldn’t be eligible because the amendment would serve dual purposes. (ehrlif / Shutterstock.com)
  • Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to a proposed ballot initiative that would amend term limit rules 
  • Proposal would allow state lawmakers to serve up to 12 years in the Legislature, regardless of chamber
  • State lawmakers voted in May to place the proposal on the ballot and skip the signature-gathering process

Sept. 9: Term limits ballot measure: What Proposal 1 means for Michigan

The Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to a ballot proposal that would change term-limit rules for Michigan lawmakers, clearing the way for its appearance on the November ballot. 

The ballot measure, designated “Proposal 1” on the November ballot, is a constitutional amendment proposal that would allow state lawmakers to serve up to 12 years in the Legislature, regardless of the chamber. Currently, lawmakers max out at three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate, up to 14 years total.

Sponsor

The initiative would also apply stricter financial disclosure rules to state elected officials, including the governor, attorney general, secretary of state and other lawmakers. Michigan and Idaho are the only states that do not require elected or appointed public officials to disclose personal financial information.

Related:

Patrick Anderson, who helped draft the term limits law that passed in 1992, challenged that the new proposal addresses dual purposes: to change legislative term limits and add more financial disclosure requirements. He also said the amendment summary doesn’t adequately address what the proposal would change. 

The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed, noting in a brief that the court “is not persuaded that it should grant the relief requested.” 

Justice David Viviano acknowledged Anderson’s argument about whether the proposal addresses multiple subjects at once but noted the “test is not rigid” for determining what constitutes a single purpose. 

In a statement, Anderson suggested the court is “letting the Legislature get away with something the citizens cannot do,” calling the effort a term-limits repeal hidden behind a “veneer of disclosure.”

“Unfortunately, the failure of the whole court to address this now will leave an invitation for future legislatures to craft proposals involving multiple subjects and attempt to dictate a misleading presentation to the voters,” Anderson said. “This will not stop at term limits. If Proposal 1 passes, we will see future attempts to repeal vital constitutional protections dressed up as good government programs.” 

State lawmakers voted in May to place the proposal to change existing term limits on the ballot and skip the signature-gathering process.

Sponsor

The original language — championed by bipartisan coalition Voters for Transparency and Term Limits — would have required state public officials to disclose income, assets and payments received from anyone. Instead, the Legislature-approved resolution requires lawmakers to disclose “sources” of income and assets and match gift-reporting requirements for registered lobbyists.

Supporters of the effort include business and labor leaders and former prominent politicians, some of whom would become newly eligible for reelection if the proposal passed. They reason the changes would improve transparency and give lawmakers more time in one position to serve their constituents better while lowering the overall cap on time served. 

Opponents include the advocacy group U.S. Term Limits, which has argued the practical effect would be to prolong the terms of House and Senate members.

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