According to folks on the ground in Lansing, Michigan, today, the scene looks quite like Madison, Wisconsin from winter 2011. AFSCME reports over 10,000 protesters both outside and inside the capital right now. The state government has arrayed the normal series of law enforcement and security personnelthat seem to spring up whenever anyone wants to use their First Amendment rights to protest in 21st-century America.
Despite this, and despite pleading from top Democratic lawmakers as well as the leading media outlets in the state, the outcome here is fairly well-defined. The legislature will complete their work on the right to work bills, approving legislation that would allow free riders to get all the benefits of collective bargaining without having to pay dues. And the Governor will sign it.
However, labor unions believe they have found a way to challenge these bills at the ballot box, even if they would be allowed to remain in place for a while in the interim. As first reported by NBC News, an analysis by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan shows that labor would have recourse to put the right to work laws up for a citizen initiative. Republicans thought they short-circuited this by including an appropriation of funds in the legislation. By virtue of a state law, this means that the legislation cannot be challenged at the ballot box, they contended. However, the CRC of Michigan analysis shows that this is only true for one type of initiative. Here’s the full language of the analysis.
There are four methods whereby a proposal can be placed on the statewide ballot in Michigan: (1) statutory initiative, (2) voter referendum, (3) legislative referendum, and (4) constitutional amendment.
STATUTORY INITIATIVE is defined by Section 9 of Article 2 of the Michigan Constitution as the power which the people reserve to themselves “to propose laws and to enact and reject laws.” The power of initiative extends to any law the Legislature may enact and is invoked by filing petitions containing signatures of registered voters equal in number to at least eight percent of the total votes cast in the last election for governor. The Legislature is required to enact, without modification, or reject any proposed initiative within 40 session days. An initiative not enacted by the Legislature is placed on the statewide ballot at the next general election. A law that is initiated or adopted by the people is not subject to gubernatorial veto and one adopted by voters cannot subsequently be amended or repealed except by the voters or by a three-fourths vote of the Legislature.
VOTER REFERENDUM is defined by Section 9 of Article 2 of the Michigan Constitution as the power “to approve and reject laws enacted by the legislature.” Referendum must be invoked, within 90 days of final adjournment of the legislative session during which the law in question was enacted, by filing petitions containing signatures of registered voters equal in number to at least five percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last general election. The effect of invoking a referendum is to suspend the law in question until voters approve or reject it at the next general election.
LEGISLATIVE REFERENDUM is authorized by Section 34 of Article 4 of the Michigan Constitution, which provides that “[a]ny bill passed by the legislature and approved by the governor, except a bill appropriating money, may provide that it will not become law unless approved by a majority of the electors voting thereon.”
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT is authorized by Sections 1 and 2 of Article 12 of the Michigan Constitution and may be proposed either by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or by filing petitions containing signatures of registered voters equal in number to at least ten percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last general election.
The question of CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION is required by Section 3 of Article XII of the Michigan Constitution to appear on the ballot automatically every 16 years after 1978.
Only the legislative referendum is short-circuited by the appropriation of funds. Labor could use the voter referendum or the statutory initiative to put right to work on the ballot, for example. This will take more signatures than the legislative referendum, but that just represents an organizing opportunity.
Remember that, of the two labor uprisings in the past couple years, the Ohio referendum campaign against SB5 succeeded, while the recall elections in Wisconsin failed. Clearly it’s easier for labor to rally support on specific legislation rather than the legislators. And that path is open to them in Michigan. Greg Sargent quotes Eddie Vale of Worker’s Voice this morning, who says that “The Michigan Constitution allows two other ways to let the people decide this issue on the ballot, and whether it’s one of those options or the 2014 Governor’s election itself, Michiganders will be heard loud and clear.”
Of course, any referendum or initiative would take place in November 2014, the same time when Governor Rick Snyder would be on the ballot for re-election. And that’s something he’ll have to think about when faced with signing the bills.
Photo by WisAFLCIO under Creative Commons license