Michigan Court OKs 3 Ballot Proposals, Rejects 1

The Michigan Supreme Court ordered three challenged ballot proposals onto the Nov. 6 ballot, but blocked a fourth -- a proposal to authorize eight more Michigan casinos.
by | September 6, 2012
The privately owned Ambassador Bridge, above, is used by commercial trucks to travel between Detroit and Canada. (Photo: John in Mich/Flickr CC)

The Michigan Supreme Court ordered three challenged ballot proposals onto the Nov. 6 ballot on Wednesday, but blocked a fourth -- a proposal to authorize eight more Michigan casinos.

The court's decision means voters will be asked to decide on five proposed constitutional amendments and whether to retain one state law (on emergency managers) when they go to the polls. It's the busiest state ballot in a generation.

The three proposals the court ordered onto the ballot Wednesday would require a statewide vote on a new public bridge to Canada, enshrine collective bargaining rights in the constitution, and require a two-thirds legislative supermajority for state tax increases.

Three other ballot questions already had been certified. One would amend the constitution to protect the unionization of home health care workers, another constitutional proposal would require more aggressive renewable energy standards. The third is a referendum on the emergency manager bill passed by the Legislature last year.

Wednesday's decision was unanimous, except for a split on the casino proposal, which the 4-3 majority declared could not be certified because its drafters failed to warn petition signers and potential voters that it would diminish authority written into the state constitution for the Liquor Control Commission.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Brian Zahra and joined by Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. and Justices Mary Beth Kelly and Stephen Markman. Justice Marilyn Kelly, joined by Justices Michael Cavanagh and Diane Hathaway, wrote a partial dissent, arguing that the casino proposal also met legal standards for amending the constitution.

The entire court embraced the right of citizens to amend the constitution by a petition drive as one that had been "consistently protected" for nearly a century. Backers of each of the proposals authorized for the ballot turned in the signatures of more than 400,000 registered voters.

Opponents had sought to bar the proposals from the ballot, arguing that their drafters had failed to include language identifying other sections of the constitution that would be affected by adoption, thereby leaving petition signers and potential voters in the dark about their implications.

But the court said that only when an amendment directly changes an existing provision or nullifies it altogether was the so-called republication of the existing provision required.

Today's ruling could have far-reaching implications for future ballot initiatives, as the justices tried to spell out a clear set of guidelines for aspiring petitioners to follow.

In the short term, it means the loss of ten of millions of dollars in television advertising that was anticipated in a showdown between the casino expansionists and defenders of existing casinos in Detroit and those owned by American Indian tribes.

Even without a casino battle, however, well-heeled advocates for and against the labor and bridge initiatives are expected to spend heavily between now and November. Labor unions have pooled millions for the collective bargaining and home health care proposals, while Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun has been spending virtually nonstop on television ads promoting the bridge amendment (even before it was approved for the ballot). On the other side, a coalition of business and taxpayer groups has mounted a "Vote No" campaign, accusing big labor of trying to hijack the state constitution. They, too, have aired television and radio ads.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Detroit and tribal casinos said Wednesday's court decision thwarts "a group of secretive investors' attempt to guarantee casino and liquor licenses in our constitution."

"We have said all along that this proposal was poorly written and a terrible piece of public policy for the state," said spokesman John Truscott.

But Emily Palsrok, a spokeswoman for the group pushing expansion, said the decision was only a temporary setback. She said that the liquor license language contained in the proposed amendment (and identified as a fatal flaw by the court) was not an essential part of the proposal, and can easily be rewritten. "We'll be back," Palsrok said.

The court heard oral arguments on the cases last Thursday. The Board of State Canvassers has scheduled a meeting Friday to finalize the Nov. 6 ballot and assign designations to each of the proposals, just ahead of the deadline for preparing ballots for printing and distribution to overseas voters.

(c)2012 the Detroit Free Press


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