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Leave the state ballot proposals alone

Several bills being pushed through the legislature in the last days of the lame duck session were attempting to usurp the will of Michigan residents by rewriting successful voter-led ballot initiatives.

The bills aim to water down each of the three ballot proposals that had overwhelming support of voters, including a constitutional measure to limit and scale back gerrymandering of legislative districts, a constitutional measure for expanded voter rights and a citizen legislative initiative for legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Additional legislation was approved to undo minimum wage and sick leave protections crafted by lawmakers in September in order to avoid a fourth ballot proposal, which had enough signatures to get voter approval.

While the legislature has the power to make changes to a constitutional amendment by a two-thirds vote and by a simple majority when it comes to a citizen legislative initiative, there's no doubt that they violate the spirit of what voters sought at the ballot box.

Senate Bills 1171 and 1175 have already made it to the governor's desk, where Snyder should reject them. Those bills would water down minimum wage and paid-sick leave increases adopted by the legislature in September, after organizers turned in more than 350,000 signatures to place the items on November's general election ballot. However, Republican lawmakers reneged on the laws after the election, passing bills that essentially undo the previously-adopted bills.

The bait-and-switch move was no surprise to Senate Democrats, who predicted in September the switch would take place. "That doesn't make me Nostradamus, just someone who has seen this body casually disregard the will of the people and the cynical treatment of democracy over and over again," one member stated.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-Grand Haven) is not only overseeing the efforts, he's also introduced SB 1243, which would ban home-grown marijuana permissions granted by the ballot initiative legalizing recreational marijuana, which was approved by voters 56 to 44 percent. Meekhof in June pushed the legislature to adopt and amend its own legislation to legalize marijuana, but failed to garner support in the House. The bill would curtail non-commercial efforts to cultivate marijuana. It would also lower the excise tax on retail sales from 10 to 3 percent – a measure that lacks any obvious logic. For now, at least, the bill remains in committee.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall (R-White Lake) also proposed one of three bills (SB 1238-1240), which would alter ballot Proposal 3 passed by voters (67 to 33 percent) that allows a person to register to vote up to the day of an election. Under the package of bills, registration would end 14 days prior to the election, require additional proof of residency, including a designation of U.S. citizenship on driver's licenses before automatically registering to vote. The bills would also allow residents to opt-out of voting when getting a state ID. Those bills were approved by the Senate on December 6.

Lastly, voters in November approved by 61-39 percent, a constitutional amendment to change the way state and federal political district lines are drawn. Currently, those lines are drawn by the political party in power, which has led to widespread gerrymandering, giving that party an advantage. The Voters Not Politicians initiative takes much of the partisan politics out of the process, but SB 1254 would add fines for redistricting commission members who lie about their party affiliation and prohibit any person associated with a party from consulting the new commission.

We find it unconscionable that the Republicans in the Senate would show such blatant disregard for the will of the voters, and that their House counterparts would support it. We call on Governor Rick Snyder to reject these bills that make it to his desk, and for the legislature to put an end to the political shell games being played.

We should remind the Governor, as well as those lawmakers leaving office, of the legacy they will leave behind should they favor business or political interests over the interests of the voters they were elected to represent. And hundreds of thousands of voters who will surely remember the party that led the unprecedented assault on their choices.

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