Ferndale man starts petition to override state’s referendum limits

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published May 8, 2013

FERNDALE — In November of last year, Michigan voters used a veto referendum to defeat the state’s emergency manager law that focused on appointing emergency managers to local municipalities and school districts in financial distress.

However, a month later, a revised bill came out with an appropriation in the form of providing an emergency manager’s salary. According to the Michigan Constitution, voters do not have the right of referendum against a law that contains any kind of appropriation, and the new law passed.

Around the same time, the Right-to-Work bill passed, also with an appropriation going to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Though the law was controversial, the public could not put it to a referendum.

Bill Lucas, of Ferndale, disagreed with the constitution not allowing him or any other voters to fight against both laws, so he founded Voters for Fair Use of Ballot Referendum and started a petition to get the constitution amended.

“This has generally been a majority Democratic state, but we have majority Republicans in the Legislature,” Lucas said. “I don’t want to take away the authority of lawmakers to pass something like the Right-to-Work bill, but to insulate it from challenge using a gimmick appropriation, I thought that was taking advantage of a loophole to deprive voters the right to challenge state legislation.”

Article 2, Section 9 of the Michigan Constitution talks about initiatives and referendums in elections. The part of the section Lucas is targeting reads, “The power of referendum does not extend to acts making appropriations for state institutions or to meet deficiencies in state funds.”

The section was added to the constitution in 1908 and was used mainly so voters didn’t hold up state budgets from going through, Lucas said. But lately, it has been used as a device other than that.

“I agree with the reason they put the amendment in there because we can suspend appropriations that are necessary for state operations to continue,” Lucas said. “What I would like to do is get those words removed, but still allow the state budget items to go through. Even then, we should be able to use referendum against a portion of the law.”

Lucas began working on putting a petition together at the beginning of this year by working with advisors and legislators. The official petition time, which is any six-month period as decided by the group starting the petition, began April 18 and will go through October.

In order to send the petition to Lansing, Lucas and others helping him need a third of a million signatures, or roughly 323,000 signatures. Lucas said he is aiming for 450,000 signatures to account for any signatures that may be counted out.

Petitions have been circulated in numerous locations across Michigan, from Sault Ste. Marie to Lansing. Michael Chwalebny has been circulating his petition in the St. Clair Shores area and will do so at his work in Dearborn.

“I think it is a fine line where you don’t want it to turn into a situation where everything is voted on, but then again, when they pass these laws like they have recently, we should get a chance,” Chwalebny said. “We elected these officials and they are supposed to work for us. Quite frankly, this appropriation thing was used (on the) sly over a long number of years, but lately they are doing it on everything.”

Lucas said he is looking to get about 450 people circulating petitions but only has about 10 percent of that number right now. As for himself, he said he has been successful talking with the public at the Eastern Market in Detroit.

“On Saturday mornings I have a sign held up and clipboards and people come up because they have heard about it on the radio,” Lucas said. “Some people come up and know right away they want to sign. Others, it takes a small amount of explaining, and most people want to sign.”

If Lucas collects enough signatures, the petition would be turned over to the Michigan Board of Canvassers who would either approve it or people could come challenge it. However, Lucas said he feels confident that if they submit it, it will be on the ballot for the 2014 election, either in August or November.

For more information on the petition and Lucas, visit www.votersfubr.org or email info@votersfubr.org.