Photo courtesy of DAWN VILLELLA, AP)
9:06 a.m. EDT August 27, 2014
“When the Legislature considers a proposal Wednesday that would maintain a wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula, it will be the fourth time in two years that they have taken an issue away from being decided by a statewide vote of the people.
They have done it with issues ranging from insurance coverage for abortion to raising the minimum wage and appointing emergency financial managers for economically struggling cities.
They’ve also added appropriations to some bills, like the controversial right to work law, that make it immune from repeal by a referendum vote of the people.
The actions have raised the ire of groups that have had their ballot proposals thwarted by the Legislature and by ordinary citizens who have seen controversial issues pass without the checks and balances that a ballot proposal could provide.
“Even though my campaign went nowhere, I view it as a background resistance against the Legislature,” said Bill Lucas, a Ferndale resident, who started a constitutional amendment petition drive to allow referendums on all issues, including ones that contain appropriations.
Without the financial support from some organizations that he hoped would join his effort, Lucas was only able to gather a couple thousand signatures. But he intends to refile his proposal for the 2016 election.
And that’s the way it’s supposed to work, said Eric Doster, a elections law attorney based in Lansing.
“The legislators are the people’s representatives and they’ve been given that authority,” he said. “If you’re upset that the Legislature has done something, go through the constitutional process to change it.”
The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected group, which has submitted two petitions to repeal two different laws that allowed for a hunt of gray wolves in the Upper Peninsula, want the Legislature to let the voters decide the issue. The first petition was superseded by a slightly different law passed by the Legislature and the second petition could be thwarted by the vote the Legislature takes Wednesday on a petition that the pro-wolf hunt group — Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management — submitted to the Legislature.
That petition, which gathered nearly 300,000 valid signatures, already has passed the Senate and if it passes the House, it automatically becomes law.
The states across the nation have a mishmash of laws regarding citizen initiatives, referendums and constitutional amendments. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 24 states have initiative process and nine of those states, including Michigan, have provisions that the Legislature can act on initiatives turned in by citizens. The other states have those petitions go directly to the ballot.
But other states have provisions that the Legislature can’t act to amend or repeal a voter-approved initiative for a given number of years after it passes: in Nevada, it’s three years and in Alaska and Wyoming, it’s two years.
There are no bills introduced in the Michigan House or Senate that would address the referendum or initiative process. Michigan does have a law that would allow for amending or repealing a voter-approved initiative, but only with a three-fourths vote of the Legislature, a difficult goal to reach.
The Legislature got around that in 2012 by passing a slightly different version of the emergency manager law that voters repealed just a month earlier.
“The situation is Michigan really seems disrespectful of the people’s right to act as lawmakers,” said John Matsusaka, executive director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.
Kathleen Gray is a reporter for the Detroit Free Press.”
**Special thanks to Kathleen Gray, Lansing State Journal, for providing this information!