(Crystal A. Proxmire, March 22, 2013)
“How many more times will we get something from our legislature that we can’t undo?” That’s the main question posed by Ferndale resident Bill Lucas. Lucas has started a petition to amend the State Constitution by striking out language that allows legislation to be referendum-proof if there are appropriations attached.
The provision is historically intended to protect the budget process from being halted, since government needs the budget in order to function. However politicians have begun adding appropriations to bills that would normally not have anything to do with the budget just so that they would not be subject to citizens’ petitioning for repeal.
A well-known example of this was the Emergency Financial Manager law. Public Act 4 of 2011 gave the Governor the right to appoint EMFs. Voters got enough signatures and over-rode the act. Later the legislature passed a similar act, but this time with an appropriation in it for administrative costs. Because of this change the public had no recourse.
Lucas has already begun the process to change this. He’s prepared a petition that he plans to circulate in the late spring into the early fall that would make a simple change to Article II Section 9 of the state Constitution. Currently it states “The power of referendum does not extend to acts making appropriations for state institutions or to meet deficiencies in state funds and must be invoked in the manner prescribed by law within 90 days following the final adjournment of the legislative session at which the law was enacted.”
Lucas’ petition would eliminate the phrase “does not extend to acts making appropriations for state institutions or to meet deficiencies in state funds,” meaning that the public could petition a bill even if there is an appropriation attached.
The petition has already been approved, and in mid-April he will begin the process of collecting over 323,000 signatures statewide that are required to get it on the ballot. He hopes to get bi-partisan support since the abuse of the existing provision could be done by either party.
His interest began several years ago when a new law meant that retailers no longer had to price items in their stores. “That law came into place because of allegations of baiting and switching that was going on in the 1970s. People would go to check out and be charged more than the price on the shelf, and maybe they wouldn’t notice or they wouldn’t want to take the time to check on it. It was a big problem then,” he said. For several decades consumers were protected against this practice, until 2011 when the Shopping Reform and Modernization Act eliminated the requirement to price individual items. Consumers throughout the state objected to this, yet because there was an appropriation attached there was no way to petition to stop it.
Lucas is also concerned that large bottling companies and distributors are lobbying to eliminate the deposit requirement for plastic and glass soda pop containers. He said that the refund system Michigan enacted incentivizes recycling. “We could have dirty highways like we did in the 70s,” he said. “Within one year [of getting the deposit law], it changed completely. People stopped throwing their bottles on the side of the road and it made such a difference. I don’t want to go back to that.”
Lucas started Voters for Fair Use of Ballot Referendum as a way to bring political power back to the citizens. If enough signatures are collected the issue will go on the ballot for 2014. Lucas is hoping to gain support from a variety of groups from all political persuasions.
Though he hasn’t been particularly active in politics or activism, Lucas did serve on the Ferndale Charter Revision Commission in 1999-2000.
A more complex clarification to the law was also proposed in a Senate Joint Resolution C in Jan. of 2013 by state Senator Glenn Anderson, a Democrat who represents Garden City, Livonia, Redford Township and Westland. Instead of eliminating wording, the resolution would clarify that referendum-exempt bills would only have budgeting purposes, and not other lawmaking purposes. That resolution has been sitting in committee since January.
To find out more about Voters for Fair Use of Ballot Referendum, check out Lucas’ website at http://billlucas.com.