Will Small Business Support Changes to Michigan’s Initiative Petition Process?

PetitionGatheringMichigan’s Constitution allows citizens to initiate legislation and also repeal existing Public Acts by gathering a required amount of signatures within a prescribed time frame and putting the proposed legislation (or rejection of current legislation) on a statewide ballot for a vote of the people.

Citizens are also allowed to amend the Michigan Constitution in a similar manner. The required signatures for each effort are based on a percentage of the total votes cast for governor in the preceding election. In 2012 there were six ballot proposals put before voters through this process.

Some are saying that Michigan should pass laws to place restrictions on how these signatures are gathered, including outlawing the practice of paying someone a fee for each signature obtained. There are even suggestions that Michigan’s Constitution be amended to make it more difficult for a proposal to be placed on the ballot outside of the legislative process.

Supporters of placing restrictions on the signature gathering process claim that in recent years professional signature gathering companies have made it easy for any special interest with deep pockets to get their proposal on a statewide ballot. They point out that every one of the six proposals that were on the ballot in 2012 were assisted by advocates using paid petition gathering firms and that these firms pay workers a dollar amount for every signature they obtain. Supporters of restricting this practice say that the authors of our current state Constitution intended this process to be for real citizen grassroots efforts with unpaid volunteers, not a profit opportunity for signature gathering firms and a chance for well heeled interests to buy there way into our initiative process.

Opponents fear that efforts to restrict the signature gathering process are an attempt to stifle free speech. They argue that politicians are just worried about citizens having an avenue to reject or change their bad laws and policies. Opponents of placing restrictions on the signature gathering process say that the authors of the state Constitution wanted citizens to have an effective means to keep the state legislature and governor in check with the initiative process and that there is no need to make any changes. They claim that there is an equal opportunity for all interests to use the initiative process and that if advocates for a certain proposal want to use a paid signature gathering method to obtain the required signatures then that is appropriate and legal.

So where is small business on the issue of changing Michigan’s initiative petition process?

NFIB/Michigan asked our small business members in a recent survey. Here are the results:

  • Should it be illegal to pay persons on the basis of how many signatures they gather for petitions aimed at qualifying a proposal for Michigan’s statewide ballot?

79% Yes     15% No     6% Undecided

  • Should paid petition circulators be required to wear identification badges that disclose who is paying them?

96% Yes      2% No      2% Undecided

  • Should the Michigan Constitution be amended to make it more difficult to place proposals on a Michigan’s statewide ballot?

35% Yes      45% No     20% Undecided

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About Charles Owens

Charles Owens has been advocating the interests of small business in the Michigan Legislature for over 25 years, beginning with his tenure at the Michigan Institute of Laundering and Dry-cleaning and currently with the National Federation of Independent Business / Michigan. As the State Director of one of Michigan's most respected small business organizations, Owens is responsible for directing the NFIB in its mission to maintain the viability of small business in the face of expanded legislative and regulatory challenges. Owens has been an active participant in the legislative debate over numerous landmark Michigan issues including: the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, inheritance tax, tort liability reform, Unemployment Insurance reform, Workers’ Compensation, and Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Act (MIOSHA) issues. Owens and the NFIB spearheaded the efforts of other small business groups in the fight for fairness and equity for small business in the debate over the repeal and replacement for the Michigan Business Tax. Owens is a 25 year member of the Capitol Club, a dedicated group of association executives committed to the advancement of legislative advocacy for their respective organizations. In 2005 he was elected by his peers to be President of the organization. In 2006, Owens was ranked as number five of the top ten single interest individual lobbyists in Michigan by Inside Michigan Politics. Under his leadership, NFIB was also ranked in the top twenty lobbyist organizations and top ten single interest lobbying organizations by the same publication. Originally a native of Rockford, Illinois, Owens graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelors Degree in Finance and Business Administration. follow on twitter: @OwensNFIB
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