Backers of ballot initiatives to decriminalize recreational use of marijuana and redraw Michigan’s legislative districts are in an enviable spot among nearly a dozen such proposals circulating in Michigan: The state soon could approve putting those issues before voters in November.
Their supporters are optimistic that will happen.
“We remain very confident in that we have the signatures needed to get on the ballot, and even more confident that voters will support ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in November,” Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the pot measure, told Bridge.
Other high-profile proposals — including efforts to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law, shut down an oil pipeline and create a part-time state Legislature — appear to face heavier odds.
Meanwhile, the fate of two new proposals — making it easier for state residents to vote, and imposing a stricter renewable energy mandate — remain largely a mystery, at least for now.
State elections officials have spent months reviewing the proposals — namely, whether thousands of signatures the groups were required to submit are from legitimate registered voters.
The backlog appears close to ending: State elections officials say their review of the marijuana and prevailing wage proposals could be finished by early May. The marijuana and redistricting proposals are vying for a spot on November’s general election ballot, while lawmakers hope for a chance to repeal prevailing wage.
At least eight other proposals in the works don’t necessarily have the same odds.
Organizers of citizen-initiated legislative proposals have until May 30 to submit the required 252,523 valid signatures from registered Michigan voters to be considered for the November ballot. Backers of proposed constitutional amendments have a bit longer, until July 9, to reach their 315,654-signature threshold.
Ballot committees pushing proposals generally try to collect far more signatures than are needed, because a number of them likely will be thrown out as invalid. That has been a problem for proponents of repealing the prevailing wage, who missed the ballot in 2016 for having too few valid voter signatures and who already fell short once this year after opponents of their proposal challenged their signature count.
We’ve rounded up the latest on each proposal — what’s new, what’s potentially in trouble, what’s waiting for state approval and what’s still circulating.
Signatures are already in for these proposals
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. Currently, Michigan law only allows marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The group’s proposal, backed by a committee called the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, 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 proposal would create a 10 percent state excise tax on marijuana sold by retailers, with revenue dedicated for municipalities, counties, public schools and roads.
Who’s behind it? The effort is led 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, also has been involved with coordinating volunteers.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in $131,334 in the most recent filing period from Jan. 1 through Feb. 10, according to state campaign finance records. It has raised $783,070 to date this election cycle.
What’s the status? The coalition on Nov. 20 submitted more than 360,000 signatures, far more than the 252,523 required by the state Bureau of Elections for review. State elections staff is now reviewing the petition to confirm there are enough valid signatures to meet the threshold. The bureau will then make a recommendation to the Board of State Canvassers, which could meet as soon as early May, said Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the Michigan Secretary of State.
What’s the opposition say? The Committee to Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools in November called the proposal “ill-advised and not in the public interest,” adding: “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.”
A second group, Healthy and Productive Michigan, opposes the legalization of recreational uses of marijuana. The group called marijuana a gateway to harder drug use at a March Solutions Summit hosted by Bridge and The Center for Michigan.
RELATED: Michigan voters may weigh legalizing pot, repealing prevailing wage (with video)
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.
Repealing the law has been a priority of Republicans in the Legislature. But lawmakers have held off on advancing their own bills, in large part because Snyder, a fellow Republican, opposes repeal 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 first, which could enact it on its own.
Protecting Michigan Taxpayers’ leadership has said its goal is to bypass the ballot and have the Legislature adopt it.
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 $50,025 in the most recent filing period from Jan. 1 through Feb. 10, according to state campaign finance records. It has raised more than $1.4 million to date this election cycle.
What’s the status? Protecting Michigan Taxpayers 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.
Protecting Michigan Taxpayers pulled its 2016 petition after it was discovered that thousands of duplicate signatures were incorrectly submitted to the state, and amid allegations that the Las Vegas-based signature collection firm it hired — a different company than the one it’s using this time — used fraudulent methods to gain signatures.
Opponents, including the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, have challenged the validity of the signatures. A first signature sample turned up too few valid ones to automatically qualify for the ballot, so the state drew a second, larger sample to verify.
As a result, the proposal is not certain to make the ballot. Yet “we’ve been able to review the larger sample just as long as everyone has, and after our internal review, we are as confident as we were when we turned them in that we have the signatures,” Jeff Wiggins, president of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, told Bridge.
“We are just as confident that the votes are there in the Legislature.”
State elections staff is reviewing the petition to make a recommendation for the Board of State Canvassers, which could meet in May, Woodhams said.
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. They have formed a ballot committee called Protect Michigan Jobs.
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, or unfairly drawn, states in the nation.
In Michigan, Republicans controlled the Legislature and the governor’s office in 2011, as they do now.
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. Each major party would have four members and the remaining five members would be independent voters.
Who’s behind it? Voters Not Politicians has relied on volunteers, rather than paid circulators, to collect signatures.
Katie Fahey, the group’s president and treasurer, wrote a Facebook post shortly after the 2016 election saying she wanted to tackle gerrymandering in Michigan. Fahey has said the coalition 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 $47,225 in the most recent filing period from Jan. 1 through Feb. 10, according to state records. It has publicly reported more than $574,990 this election cycle.
What’s the status? Voters Not Politicians submitted roughly 425,000 signatures to the state, more than the required 315,654 for citizen-driven constitutional amendments.
The state Bureau of Elections has pulled a random sample of signatures to begin its review, Woodhams said. Anyone interested in challenging the validity of the group’s signatures has until April 26 to do so.
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. She has said volunteers represent both major parties and the redistricting commission would be bipartisan.
Proposals unlikely to advance
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.)
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley launched the effort during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference last year on Mackinac Island.
Michigan is one of 10 states with a full-time Legislature.
Who’s behind it? Calley handed the reins of the committee to Tom McMillin, a former Republican state representative and current member of the Michigan State Board of Education, before Calley announced he was running for governor.
The effort was 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.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in nearly $97,694 in the most recent filing period from Jan. 1 through Feb. 10, according to state campaign finance records. It has raised more than $1.3 million this election cycle.
What’s the status? Some Michigan news outlets this month reported that the proposal had died for lack of signatures.
Kammeraad, who is working on the campaign, was quoted as saying the group collected close to 325,000 signatures, though about 40,000 had to be tossed because they were not collected within a 180-day window to gather more than 315,000 required signatures. That window fell as the group ran out of nice weather, Kammeraad told the Detroit Free Press.
But this week, Kammeraad told Bridge the proposal is not yet dead. He said organizers plan to schedule a news conference within weeks to offer a status update, adding that it’s possible the group has more signatures than initially thought.
What’s the opposition say? Critics, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, say the proposal would alter the balance of power at the Capitol.
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 whether the proposal would limit the legislative 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.”
Unlike the other pot initiative, this proposal doesn’t include age restrictions. Timothy Locke, the Midland resident leading Abrogate Prohibition Michigan, said one goal is to stop people caught with marijuana from being arrested. That includes children or teens. Parents, rather than government, should be the ones to address the issue, he said.
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 $10 in the most recent filing period from Jan. 1 through Feb. 10, according to state records. It has raised nearly $4,644 to date this calendar year.
What’s the status? Constitutional amendment committees have until July to submit petitions containing more than 315,000 signatures. Locke said his group continues to collect signatures, though it does not yet have enough.
“We’re hoping we can get there, but of course it’s looking like a Hail Mary shot from this point out,” Locke said. “I’d love to wrap this up this year, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen right now.”
What’s the opposition say? Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the larger of the two marijuana ballot drives, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, in November said: “We just can’t (imagine) the Abrogate proposal getting much traction” without regulations and provisions to keep minors from getting marijuana.
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 allow for the end of 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.
Phil Bellfy, a retired university professor and former Democratic legislative candidate who is leading the effort, said his group’s effort would address crude oil only through Line 5, not the transmission of propane gas.
Who’s behind it? The initiative is led by Bellfy and Jeff Hank, who also leads the MI Legalize ballot committee that has worked on marijuana decriminalization.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in no money during the most recent filing period from Jan. 1 through Feb. 10, according to state campaign finance records. It has raised $3,170 to date this election cycle.
What’s the status? Bellfy, of Sault Ste. Marie, said the committee has not decided whether to continue to try and collect the 252,000 signatures by May 30, or try again for 2020. Bellfy said he did not know the exact number of signatures collected to date, but that the group was significantly short of what is needed.
The group’s main goal now is to support candidates in November’s election who have stated they intend to shut down Line 5. Bellfy pointed to Dana Nessel, who this week won the Michigan Democratic Party’s endorsement for Attorney General. Nessel has said she intends to close down the pipeline if elected.
If she wins, Bellfy said, “the whole question of whether we need a ballot initiative is moot.”
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.”
Promote the Vote (Making voting easier)
What is it? A proposed amendment to the state constitution that backers hope will make voting easier and more accessible across the state. Among its proposals, the amendment would constitutionally enshrine straight-ticket voting, automatically register Michigan residents to vote when they visit a Secretary of State office, extend the amount of time residents can register to vote before an election, allow no-reason absentee voting and audit election results.
The committee behind it, known as Promote the Vote, said 38 states give residents more time to register to vote, 37 offer early or absentee voting and 16 allow voters to register and vote on the same day.
Michigan has allowed straight-party voting, though a 2015 state law that would ban the practice is currently in court after a judge in 2016 argued that the law would disproportionately affect African Americans’ voting rights.
“These are common-sense reforms that will make voting more accessible to all people in the state,” said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, one of the groups leading the ballot effort. “It’s been very difficult to accomplish them legislatively.”
Who’s behind it? The ACLU of Michigan, League of Women Voters, Michigan League for Public Policy and the NAACP Michigan State Conference are among the organizations. The group says it has the endorsement of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and multiple business leaders and community organizations.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in $81,000 in the most recent filing period from Jan. 1 through Feb. 10, according to state records. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan are among the largest donors.
What’s the status? The group has until July 9 to collect 315,654 valid signatures from Michigan voters. Moss said the group will rely on both paid and volunteer signature collectors. She did not disclose how many signatures have been collected to date, but said the group is waiting for warmer weather to collect in earnest.
What’s the opposition say? Little to no opposition has publicly emerged since the proposal was introduced earlier this year.
Clean Energy Healthy Michigan
What is it? A proposed legislative change to state energy law that would require electric utilities to generate at least 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2030.
Lawmakers in 2016 updated state law to increase that renewable energy standard from 10 percent to 15 percent by 2021.
Electric utilities in Michigan — the two largest are Detroit’s DTE Energy Co. and Consumers Energy in Jackson — have been weaning themselves off coal as they retire aging power plants. They plan to replace some of that generation with natural gas, but also with renewable alternatives like solar and wind.
John Freeman, a former state legislator and campaign manager for the Clean Energy Healthy Michigan ballot committee, said that the cost of wind and solar energy has come down as demand for them has increased, and as Michigan has required utilities to use them to generate electricity.
“The market forces are saying that the cost of maintaining those (coal) plants is uneconomical, in large part because the alternative way of providing electricity is so much cheaper,” Freeman said. “We’re giving the utilities 12 years to be able to meet it. We don’t think that’s particularly onerous at all.”
Who’s behind it? California billionaire Tom Steyer's NextGen America organization is providing financial support, including in-kind legal services and staff help, according to state campaign finance records. Freeman said he also is reaching out to various environmental and energy organizations for support.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in nearly $205,000 in in-kind donations since February, according to state records.
What’s the status? The ballot effort will need to collect more than 252,000 valid signatures by May 30 — an uphill climb. Freeman would not disclose how many signatures have been gathered so far, other than to say he is on schedule to meet the deadline.
What’s the opposition say? DTE and Consumers have pushed back, arguing that they already have plans in place to increase their use of renewable energy without being required to do so.
“Energy policy is complex, and a ballot initiative is a bad idea,” DTE Energy CEO Gerry Anderson told Crain’s Detroit Business. “The best place to do that is through legislation. ... We did that twice (in 2008 and 2016).”
Proposals still collecting signatures
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. 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.
Michigan does not require employers to provide paid sick leave for their employees.
Who’s behind it? Mothering Justice, a statewide group that works to engage mothers in policy decisions, is one of the leading organizations. Also supporting the effort are Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) organization that advocates for social welfare issues, and The Fairness Project, an advocacy group for raising the minimum wage and enacting paid sick leave also based in Washington.
How much money has it raised? The committee took in no direct money in the most recent filing period from Jan. 1 through Feb. 10, according to state campaign finance records, though it accepted more than $3,300 in in-kind donations. It has raised $800,010 to date this calendar year.
What’s the status? Danielle Atkinson, co-chairwoman of the MI Time to Care committee, could not be reached for comment this week. She previously 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 has 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.”
Michigan One Fair Wage (Raise minimum wage)
What is it? A legislative effort to 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 $9.25. Tipped workers currently earn a minimum of $3.52 per hour before tips.
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. It also has support 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 $100,000 in the most recent filing period from Jan. 1 through Feb. 10, according to state records. It reported $720,700 in contributions this election cycle.
What’s the status? Ballot initiatives for legislation have until May 30 to submit 252,523 signatures. Alicia Farris, state director of Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, who is leading the initiative, previously said signature collection began Oct. 30 and the group has until the end of April before its 180-day window closes.
“We are still collecting,” Farris told Bridge this week, though she did not disclose the number of signatures collected to date. “We’re very much on track.”
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.
The Committee to Ban Fracking
A 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. That’s because 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 has 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.
Kozma told Bridge this week the group collected about 245,000 signatures of the required 252,000, though supporters also want to collect more signatures than needed so they have a cushion in case some are rejected as invalid.
She said if the group does not collect enough signatures by the May 30 deadline, it will continue working for the 2020 statewide ballot.
Committee website: http://www.letsbanfracking.org/