State Legislature continues to trample referendum rights

For the fourth time in just the past couple of years, the Legislature has essentially vetoed the right of Michigan citizens — a right clearly spelled out in the state Constitution — to initiate or oppose legislation via ballot proposals.

It’s a brazen assault on the democratic process and a slap to Michigan voters. It’s got to stop.

• On Wednesday the state Senate voted 23-10, almost entirely along party lines, to maintain the state’s power to allow wolf hunts; the bill was designed to quash two voter petitions to put the issue before voters in November.

• Earlier this year the Legislature passed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $9.25, derailing a citizen referendum that would have raised it to $10.10 per hour. It must be said that was part of a deal that stifled an attempt to raise the wage by just pennies.

• In November of 2012, voters rejected the state’s emergency manager law, but less than two months later, lawmakers approved a nearly duplicate version. For good measure, they tacked on an appropriation, which made the new version essentially immune to an further voter referendums.

• In December, lawmakers approved controversial citizen-initiated abortion insurance legislation. The petition drive was organized by Right to Life of Michigan. Instead of letting the issue go to the ballot — which is supposedly what Right to Life was petitioning for — the Legislature chose to enact the law, preventing voters from having a say. That move also put Gov. Rick Snyder, who had earlier vetoed similar legislation, out of the loop.

Adding insult to injury, Wednesday’s wolf hunt vote was held on the only day in August the Senate will meet. Senators interrupted their five-week summer vacation to return to Lansing solely to steal the voters’ right to participate in the lawmaking process. The House is expected to take up the legislation later this month, but it’s considered a slam dunk.

All of this is possible because Republicans control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office. Their large majorities — particularly in the Senate — give them essentially a free hand to do as they please, the Constitution and voters be damned.

There are those who claim that when the roles were reversed and the Democrats ruled in Lansing, they were just as imperious. But there has never been an assault on the right of average citizens to vote on in important issues like this one.

There are also arguments that just because a couple hundred thousand voters sign a petition they shouldn’t have the right to trump the elected Legislature. That nonsense ignores the fact that citizen-led petitions are to put issues on the ballot, where every voter in the state has the right to weigh in. 

This is bad governance that is eroding citizens’ confidence that they have any say in what happens in Lansing. State House and Senate districts are so heavily gerrymandered — drawn to favor one party over the other — that Republican lawmakers are pretty much immune to any fallout from their arrogance. 

Sooner or later, things will even out. But until then, it’s sad to see lawmakers routinely trample the system just because they can.

— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE

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