Federal Judge O’Meara Plans to Issue Ruling on PA 269, ‘Important Case’ Soon

Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons explains why he is opposed to PA 269.

Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons speaks at a recent news conference opposed to PA 269. He is one of three League members listed as plaintiffs in a lawsuit.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Recognizing the urgency of the case, U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara today said he would issue a written ruling soon regarding a lawsuit charging that a “gag order” provision in Public Act 269 is unconstitutional and asking that the law be overturned.

Judge O’Meara heard oral arguments from both sides Thursday morning. Jerome R. Watson spoke as one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs – 17 local government officials and one private citizen. Defendants in the case are Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and the State of Michigan.

“The heart of this case is not about misusing public funds. This case is about abusing First Amendment rights. This case is all about censorship of speech,” said Watson, of the Miller Canfield law firm, during the hearing at the U.S. District Court, Federal Building in Ann Arbor.

Calling it an “important case,” Judge O’Meara said he hoped to issue a decision soon on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction. The case is regarding Subsection 57(3) of Public Act 269, which amended Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act. State law already prohibits governmental officials from using tax dollars to advocate for or against a proposal. This new provision goes far beyond what is constitutionally permissible.

Specifically, subsection 57(3) bans local officials or employees of local governments and school districts from using public resources to communicate with voters by giving them factual information about a ballot measure through radio, television, mass mailing or prerecorded telephone messages within 60 days of the election.

There is urgency to this case because more than 100 school districts and local governments have issues on the March 8 ballot and already are being affected by the 60-day gag order time period.

The case is Robert Taylor et al v. Ruth Johnson and the State of Michigan. It was filed Jan. 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, based in Detroit.

Lawsuit plaintiffs include Michigan Municipal League members Roseville Mayor Robert Taylor, Algonac City Manager Douglas R. Alexander, and Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons. Other plaintiffs are Tuscola County Commissioner Matthew Bierlein; New Haven Community Schools Superintendent Todd R. Robinson; Riverview Community Schools School Board President Gary O’Brien and Superintendent Russell Pickell; Tecumseh School Board President Kimberly Amstutz-Wild and Superintendent Gary O’Brien; Waterford School District School Board President Robert Seeterlin and Superintendent Keith Wunderlich; Goodrich Area Schools Superintendent Michelle Imbrunone; Clinton Community Schools Superintendent David P. Pray; Byron Area Schools School Board President Amy Lawrence and Superintendent Patricia Murphy-Alderman; Warren Consolidated School District Superintendent Robert D. Livernois; Lansing School District Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul; and Stephen Purchase, a private citizen.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at 810-874-1073.

Bill Amending “Gag Order” Law Moves From Committee Despite League Opposition

One of the numerous bills that have been introduced in recent weeks to “fix” the infamous SB 571/PA 269 was reported from House committee this afternoon despite opposition from local government organizations, including the MML.  House Bill 5219 was amended in the committee with an H-1 substitute and was sent to the House floor on a 6-1-1 vote.  The new version, while resolving some of the issues the League has highlighted with the new law, maintains an extra-regulatory structure over certain radio, television, mass mailing, or pre-recorded telephone message communications with residents.  Broad language identifying any of the covered communication methods that “references a local ballot question” was also retained.  New language was added in an attempt to define allowable communications as the actual ballot language, the date of an election, and “Factual and strictly neutral information concerning the direct impact of a local ballot question on a public body or the electorate, except if the communication can reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to influence the outcome of a local ballot question.”

The League continues to press for a repeal of the language added to Section 57 by PA 269 and stated the concern that attempts to define what is an allowable communication with residents has the potential to lead right back to the legal concerns that have put this new law in question in the first place, with local officials not knowing what is acceptable and what is forbidden.

It is not yet known when the House expects to take HB 5219 up for consideration.

Chris Hackbarth is the League’s director of state affairs. He can be reached at 517-908-0304and chackbarth@mml.org.

Obsolete Property Rehab Act Extension Moves

The Michigan Senate unanimously passed a ten year extension to the Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act this morning.  Introduced in December, on the heels of passage of the extension to the Commercial Rehabilitation Act, Senate Bill 673 was supported by the League in committee last week and quickly moved to the Senate floor where it received a final passage vote of 37-0.  The act is currently scheduled to sunset at the end of 2016.  SB 673 would extend that sunset until December 31 of 2026.  The bill now moves to the House Tax Policy committee for further consideration.

Chris Hackbarth is the League’s director of state affairs. He can be reached at 517-908-0304and chackbarth@mml.org.

Roseville, Algonac, Dowagiac Officials Are Among Plaintiffs in Federal Lawsuit Against ‘Gag Order’ Law

League President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly leads a press conference announcing a lawsuit against PA 269.

League President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly leads a press conference announcing a lawsuit against PA 269.

City officials from Roseville, Algonac, Dowagiac are among 18 plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed today in Detroit charging that a “gag order” provision in Public Act 269 is unconstitutional and asking that the law be overturned. (View a press release about the League plaintiffs in the lawsuit and view a statewide press release about the suit.)

Subsection 57(3) of Public Act 269, which amended Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act, prohibits elected and appointed public and school officials from providing factual information to voters about local ballot measures within 60 days of an election. State law already prohibits governmental officials from using tax dollars to advocate for or against a proposal. This new gag order goes far beyond what is constitutionally permissible.

“It’s an absolute gag order preventing public officials from addressing their constituents and residents of about matters of local concern,” said Scott Eldridge, an attorney with Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone who has filed the lawsuit against Public Act 269. “It’s so overly broad and vague that it penalizes public officials with a crime if they speak in even an objectively neutral tone about ballot issues.”

Tuesday's press conference.

Tuesday’s press conference.

The League hosted a press conference Tuesday afternoon to announce the lawsuit. The news conference was led by Board President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly and included some of the 18 plaintiffs named in the suit. League members serving as plaintiffs are Roseville Mayor Robert Taylor, Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons and Algonac City Manager Doug Alexander.

About a dozen media members participated in the news conference including reporters from the Detroit News, mlive.com, the Detroit Free Press, Dowagiac Daily NewsMIRS News Service, Gongwer News Service, the Associated Press, Michigan Public RadioMichigan Radio Network and TV 6 and TV 10, both out of Lansing.

More than 100 school districts and local governments with issues on the March 8 ballot already are being harmed by the new law, which bans local officials or employees of local governments and school districts from using public resources to communicate with voters by giving them factual information about a ballot measure through radio, television, mass mailing or prerecorded telephone messages in the final two months of an election.

Algonac City Manager Doug Alexander talks about the impact of PA 269 on his community.

Algonac City Manager Doug Alexander talks about the impact of PA 269 on his community.

The result will be that uninformed voters are likely to first learn about complex matters when they look at ballots on election day without having received basic information such as what the proposal is about, how much it will save or cost them and what the consequences of a yes or no vote are. In addition to being unconstitutional, the law will also negatively affect local credit ratings and result in higher costs for local taxpayers, Moody’s Investors Service has warned.

Algonac City Manager Doug Alexander said his city is requesting voters to allow the city to enter a 20-year lease agreement with the US Coast Guard for 200 feet of Riverfront Park dockage in exchange for the Coast Guard repairing at its cost the seawall at that location.

“Under the current law we can’t mail any information to voters about this lease agreement with the Coast Guard. For example, we would have normally explained a ballot issue like this in our quarterly newsletter that is mailed to about 1,900 city households,” Alexander said. “Should I expect a local group of citizens to get together and form a campaign committee to explain this to the voters? Not likely, nor should they have to. This is a function of government. People expect their local government to do these types of negotiations, put these questions before them and then share factual information with the public so that they can make educated decisions. Our newsletter would have just stated factual, objective and neutral information to our residents. But we can no longer do that.”

Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons explains why he is opposed to PA 269.

Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons explains why he is opposed to PA 269.

Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons said his city is asking voters to change the city charter to have its clerk appointed instead of elected.

“This law strips away or brings into question the legality of many of the most effective means of communication that we have traditionally used,” Lyons said. “For a community that values transparency, the removal of some of our most effective means of communicating with our electorate by a poorly crafted and confusing piece of last-minute legislation is simply wrong. It is a sad day when the state Legislature tells me that I can no longer communicate effectively with the people I was elected to serve.”

Here are some excerpts from a couple of the media reports:

From the Detroit News:

… the law violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by banning “the free flow of objectively neutral, core political speech,” according to a complaint filed in U.S. Eastern District Court in Detroit.

Attorney Scott Eldridge of Miller Canfield answers questions from the media during Tuesday's news conference.

Attorney Scott Eldridge of Miller Canfield answers questions from the media during Tuesday’s news conference.

The suit also contends the law violates the 14th Amendment, which guarantees the right to due process, by subjecting public officials to criminal prosecution without providing adequate notice or guidance about what amounts to a violation.

“As a result, it chills speech altogether,” said Scott Eldridge, an attorney with Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone who is representing the plaintiffs.

“This law was created by the Legislature in the dark hours of the night, and this kind of last-minute, knee-jerk policy making is exactly what continues to plague our great state,” (said Warren Consolidated School District Superintendent Robert D. Livernois, a plaintiff in the suit). “In this particular case, that law resulted in the trampling — and I mean trampling — of our constitutional rights.”

From Mlive.com:

The lawsuit alleges that the 60-day limitation violates the United States Constitution’s free speech protections, ensconced in the first amendment. It also alleges the 14th amendment, which protects due process, was violated.

Reporters cover the press conference Tuesday at the League's office in Lansing.

Reporters cover the press conference Tuesday at the League’s office in Lansing.

“We’re confident that the court is going to rule in favor of free speech and against censorship,” …Eldridge (said).

… Dowagiac Mayor Donald Lyons said that in his 18 years as mayor he’s regularly communicated with residents ahead of ballot proposals to explain them.

“Think about this for a minute. Think about the fact that if I were to perform my duty as I have performed it over the last 18 years I would be subject to a fine, jail sentence and to charging with a misdemeanor, all because I tried to do my job,” Lyons said.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Douglas Alexander, Algonac city manager, said that while much of the attention is on ballot initiatives that have to deal with taxes, he’s concerned about what it will mean for a March 8 proposal in his community to approve a lease agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard for a section of the Algonac seawall.

In the past, the city would have provided “factual, objective and neutral information” in its quarterly newsletter “so our residents could make an informed decision.”

“Now, we can no longer do that,” Alexander said. “We would have explained that the Coast Guard would be paying for repairs.”

Residents, he said, will have questions.

“Should I expect every one of them to pick up the phone and call me? I hope not. But that’s the alternative we have now and it doesn’t make sense.”

From the Associated Press:

…But groups representing school districts, municipalities and other government entities said the “fix” pending in the House Elections Committee is inadequate and would only let them communicate the election date and a 100-word ballot summary of the proposal to voters.

Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly, president of the Michigan Municipal League, said the secretary of state found only five valid complaints in three years of a local entity improperly advocating for a ballot measure.

“There is no indication there was any great calamity to be solved” by this law, he said during a news conference in Lansing to announce the suit. “This was a political thing that never should have happened.”
Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org or 734-669-6317.

U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin and Macomb County Area Officials Seek Repeal of ‘Gag Order’ in PA 269

Roseville Mayor Robert Taylor kicks off Thursday's news conference at the Roseville Fire Department.

Roseville Mayor Robert Taylor kicks off Thursday’s news conference at the Roseville Fire Department.

Numerous Michigan Municipal League members and mayors from the Macomb County area attended news conference in Roseville Thursday against the “gag order” provision in the newly enacted Public Act 269.

The highly successful, well-attended event at the Roseville Fire Department was organized and led by U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak. More than 75 people attended and participants included current League board members Ed Klobucher, Hazel Park city manager, and Mark Vanderpool, Sterling Heights city manager, as well as past board member and Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley. Other communities represented included Roseville, Royal Oak, Ferndale, Center Line, Mount Clemens, Pleasant Ridge, Berkley, Huntington Woods, St. Clair Shores, Fraser, and Warren. View a list of other attendees here.

“Repeal the gag rule, there’s no other alternative. We don’t want a modification, we want repeal of that provision,” Levin stated at the start of the news conference. “Under the new law – passed under the cloak of darkness – within 60 days of an election, a school district or local government cannot tell people whether a millage question appearing on their ballot is a new tax or a renewal of a previous millage, or even tell residents what their tax dollars would be spent on should a millage be approved. The large gathering today of local leaders from various walks of life vowed to turn up the heat until this misguided provision is repealed.”

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin calls for a repeal of the gag order provision in PA 269.

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin calls for a repeal of the gag order provision in Michigan’s PA 269.

Many of the speakers were not just critical of PA 269 (formerly SB 571), but they were angry about it.

A provision in PA 269 places a gag order on ways local officials can communicate with their residents about local ballot questions within 60 days of an election. This gag order is currently in effect for those of with ballot items in the March 8 election and in all subsequent elections. There are more than 100 entities with ballot questions heading to voters March 8, including several in Macomb and Oakland counties.

Specifically, the law prohibits local governments from communicating with voters by giving them factual information about a ballot measure through radio, television, mass mailing or prerecorded telephone messages within 60 days of an election.

“I want this to be perfectly clear,” Klobucher said, “Public Act 269 is nothing less than an attack on the free speech rights of local officials in the state of Michigan to provide information to their constituents. I can’t say that strongly enough.”

Hazel Park City Manager Ed Klobucher speaks against Section 57 in PA 269.

Hazel Park City Manager Ed Klobucher speaks against Section 57 in PA 269.

Klobucher talked about the need to inform voters about a public safety funding consolidation effort involving the city of Hazel Park and the city of Eastpointe a year ago. Voters in both cities overwhelming approved in February of 2015 the creation of the public safety authority that included a 14-mill tax increase. The plan was essential in keeping the two communities financially afloat and out of potential emergency management, he said.

“I cannot believe that I’m standing here in 2016 in the State of Michigan and we are actually debating the issue in which the Michigan Legislature has curtailed our right to educate. Sorry I’m going to continue to open my mouth no matter what, come and arrest me. This is the United States of America and my voice will be heard and I hope all of your voices will be heard as well.”

Jessica Keyser, director of the Ferndale Public Library, spoke on behalf of her colleagues in Macomb and Oakland counties. Keyser, as quoted in the Macomb Daily, said the law violates the most-important responsibility of any librarian: to provide information to the public.

“If they want to throw us in jail, they’ll need to make more room in the cells,” she told the gathering.

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor addresses the crowd at Thursday's news event in Roseville.

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor addresses the crowd at Thursday’s news event in Roseville.

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor said there are already laws in place to prevent local governments from advocating on local ballot issues and a system .

“Last year, the Governor asked Mayors from across the state to share information with our residents about Proposal 1, which was a very complicated ballot measure,” Taylor said. “A few weeks ago, he signed a bill into law that would make me a criminal for doing what he asked me to do less than one year ago. This law needs to be repealed to allow us as public officials to give our residents unbiased, factual information about what we are placing on the ballot for their consideration.”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel was also very direct explaining he is “absolutely appalled that this legislature took away the basic Constitutional right of freedom of speech. … This needs to be repealed.”

The League and a coalition of organizations have supported bipartisan efforts to repeal the gag order provision in Section 57 of PA 269 and lift the limitations on local officials trying to give voters important, basic and factual information on local ballot issues.

Warren Mayor James Fouts speaks during the news conference.

Warren Mayor James Fouts speaks during the news conference.

View an article about the Thursday’s news conference by Detroit News reporter Christine Ferretti and another by the Macomb Daily’s Frank DeFrank. View a press release about the event from U.S. Rep. Levin’s office.

Please contact your lawmakers today and ask them to support bills that would repeal Section 57 of PA 269. Read the League’s issue summary, view sample resolutions from Michigan communities seeking repeal, and check out the joint statement calling for repeal, and Chris Hackbarth’s blog detailing League concerns. More.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at (810) 874-1073 and mbach@mml.org.

Snyder Delivers 2016 State of the State Speech

As expected, Governor Snyder devoted much of his 2016 State of the State speech this evening to the water crisis in Flint.  Within the speech, he did also focus on the Detroit Public Schools reform efforts he is pushing and broadened the conversation about lead pipe contamination within the city of Flint to reference the need for the state to evaluate and address aging infrastructure within any city around the state.  He announced a commission on 21st century infrastructure that will be charged with evaluating Michigan’s infrastructure needs, risk areas, and costs.  More background on the Governor’s speech can be found here – http://www.michigan.gov/snyder/0,4668,7-277-74857_74858-373938–,00.html.

Chris Hackbarth is the League’s director of state affairs. He can be reached at 517-908-0304and chackbarth@mml.org.

Sample Resolution, Issue Summary on PA 269/SB 571 Now Available for League Members

The Michigan Municipal League is leading a coalition of organizations in continued opposition to the campaign finance bill SB 571, which Governor Snyder signed January 6, and is now known as PA 269. As part of this opposition, the League is asking members to reach out to their state Representatives and Senators and ask them to repeal the new language in Section 57 of PA 269.

Please call your lawmakers today and go here to get their contact info. The League also has prepared an issue summary and sample resolution that your local governments can use in calling for the repeal. Go here for the summary/talking points and go here for the downloadable sample resolution. Please forward any resolutions on this issue that you adopt to mbach@mml.org so that we can log them and share them with other members.

Read more about this bill/law and why the League so adamantly opposes it from the League’s Chris Hackbarth here. View a joint statement from the coalition calling for the repeal here.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and 734-669-6317.

 

League, other organizations to Governor Snyder: VETO SB 571

Dearborn Mayor and League President Jack O'Reilly discusses SB 571 during a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016.

Dearborn Mayor and League President Jack O’Reilly discusses SB 571 during a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016.

Governor Rick Snyder needs to veto a campaign finance bill sitting on his desk that would create more problems than it attempts to solve.

This was the basic message of a well-attended news conference Tuesday at the Michigan Municipal League’s Lansing office about SB 571. The event was covered by nearly a dozen members of the media, including radio, TV and print/online. Read articles about the news conference by: the Detroit News, mlive.com, WLNS TV, WILX TV, WOOD TVLansing State JournalDearborn Press & Guide, WSJM radio and subscription news services Gongwer and MIRS. The League’s call to veto this bill (read details about that here from the League’s Chris Hackbarth) seems to be gaining momentum.

Check out this Kalamazoo Gazette article that quotes some Republican lawmakers who are having second thoughts about approving SB 571. View this Detroit News editorial calling for a veto.

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett discusses SB 571 during a press conference Tuesday,

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett discusses SB 571 during a press conference Tuesday,

Senate Bill 571 passed the legislature on Dec. 16 with some extensive last-minute revisions. The bill expanded from 12 pages to 53 pages, but the very last change is the one we had the press conference about. Section 57 of the bill would prevent public entities from distributing information about a ballot proposal in the 60 days before an election.

“In other words, in the weeks before an election we cannot use a mailing or local cable outlets to inform our constituents if a measure will raise or lower their tax rate, who it will affect, if it will mean the community will be selling a piece of property and where it is, how a charter change will affect them or anything else,” said Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly, president of the Michigan Municipal League.

The legislation would prohibit them from distributing public notices on television, radio and in print media explaining property tax proposals, school bond issues or changes in a local charter.

Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett discusses SB 571.

Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett discusses SB 571.

“Local officials wouldn’t even be able to tell voters in their newsletter who’s running for city council,” said League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin.

Chris Barnett, supervisor of Orion Township, said the legislation amounts to a “gag order” on election officials 60 days prior to an election.

“What (voters) expect me to do is answer questions and give them information,” Barnett said.

Republican Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said perhaps this is a legislative effort to stop tax increases, but that’s not what’s going on in his community. Over the past four years the largely conservative community has considered seven ballot proposals, and only one was a tax increase.

To educate voters on these issues, which are often complicated, Rochester Hills government has turned to YouTube and public access television. But the line could get blurry.

“Can I respond to a resident asking a question about a millage proposal? It’s very concerning,” Barnett said.

A large amount of media attend a news conference Tuesday on SB 571 at the Michigan Municipal League's Lansing office.

A large amount of media attend a news conference Tuesday on SB 571 at the Michigan Municipal League’s Lansing office.

That concern was echoed by Democratic Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly, who said “we’re going to end up having a lot of effort made trying to interpret where that line is.”

Governor Snyder has until Jan. 11 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill and already some Republican lawmakers who initially voted for it are saying it might be worth a second look. Read these articles from the Kalamazoo Gazette and Holland Sentinel that talk to lawmakers willing to revisit the bill.

The press conference was emceed by League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin and featured League Board President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly, Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett and officials representing the Michigan Association of Counties, the Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Sheriffs Association, Middle Cities Education Association, Michigan Association of School Administrators, Michigan County Roads Association, Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, and the League of Women Voters. View a joint press release about the issue.

League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin kicks off a news conference on SB 571.

League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin kicks off a news conference on SB 571.

We had nearly a dozen members of the media attend including two Lansing TV stations, Michigan Public Radio, Gongwer, MIRS, mlive, Lansing State Journal, Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.

The League along with numerous communities and organizations have sent letters to Governor Snyder asking him to veto the bill. Read the veto letters from: the League, Michigan Association of Counties, and the Michigan Townships Association.

You can register your opinion about this bill with Governor Snyder during regular business hours at (517) 335-7858. Or go to https://somgovweb.state.mi.us/GovRelations/ShareOpinion.aspx.

Excerpts from articles in mlive and Detroit News about the news conference were including in this blog post.

Matt Bach is Director of Media Relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and 810-874-1073.

Communities Voice Opposition to Campaign Finance Bill

Throughout the week, communities across Michigan have been voicing their opposition to the last second inclusion of language to Senate Bill 571 that would ban communication with voters on local ballot questions within 60 days of an election.  This change happened in the waning moments of the legislative session for the year, late last Wednesday night, without hearing or notice to local government groups.

Council resolutions, letters of opposition, and direct phone calls have been pouring in to Governor Snyder’s office since this change was discovered.  You can read the League’s letter to the Governor here – VetoLetter SB571.  Organizations across the state are submitting similar letters asking the Governor to veto this bill.

Please continue to contact the Governor’s office and your State Representatives and Senators to let them know you are opposed to this unnecessary and heavy-handed proposal.

Chris Hackbarth is the League’s director of state affairs. He can be reached at 517-908-0304and chackbarth@mml.org.

Last Second Addition to Campaign Finance Bill Puts Gag Order on Communities

As the House and Senate were winding down the final minutes of session for the calendar year late Wednesday night, a seemingly innocuous Campaign Finance Act bill was amended to include over 40 pages of new language and quickly passed back and forth between the two chambers for approval right before they adjourned.  Senate Bill 571 originally passed the Senate unanimously in November.  Late on Wednesday night, as the House brought this bill up for consideration a substitute version was adopted that increased the 12-page bill to 53 pages in length and introduced new language into Section 57 of the act that deals with permissible and prohibited activities by public bodies on election-related issues.  This language was inserted without any notice to the League or other local government organizations and moved without any public testimony, let alone public awareness of what was in the new version of the bill.

The new language in Section 57 states:

(3) EXCEPT FOR AN ELECTION OFFICIAL IN THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS OR HER DUTIES UNDER THE MICHIGAN ELECTION LAW, 1954 PA 116, MCL 168.1 TO 168.992, A PUBLIC BODY, OR A PERSON ACTING FOR A PUBLIC BODY, SHALL NOT, DURING THE PERIOD 60 DAYS BEFORE AN ELECTION IN WHICH A LOCAL BALLOT QUESTION APPEARS ON A BALLOT, USE PUBLIC FUNDS OR RESOURCES FOR A COMMUNICATION BY MEANS OF RADIO, TELEVISION, MASS MAILING, OR PRERECORDED TELEPHONE MESSAGE IF THAT COMMUNICATION REFERENCES A LOCAL BALLOT QUESTION AND IS TARGETED TO THE RELEVANT ELECTORATE WHERE THE LOCAL BALLOT QUESTION APPEARS ON THE BALLOT.

There are a number of key concerns that immediately surface when reading this new language.

  • Already existing language in this section provides for an allowance for elected and appointed officials to express their views without fear of violating the act.  This new subsection does not appear to account for that allowance and could be read as a ban on freedom of speech.
  • The prohibition on any communication by television that references a local ballot question would seem to put every public access broadcast of a city council meeting at risk for violating this new provision.  There is also no allowance for a public broadcast of a debate or voter forum, even if that forum is hosted by a third party.
  • Community newsletters or potentially even election day reminders that are mailed to residents could be banned under this language.
  • Because this language specifically bans communication on only local ballot questions, the provision creates inconsistent treatment between communicating with residents on statewide ballot questions versus local questions.
  • Any violation of this section puts a community at risk for a state fine of up to $20,000.

This language puts an undue burden on communities and their residents, blocking access to unbiased, objective communication on the local issues that matter most to the residents in every community in Michigan.  Please contact the Governor’s office to express your concern over this new provision.

Chris Hackbarth is the League’s director of state affairs. He can be reached at 517-908-0304and chackbarth@mml.org.