DETROIT - Petitions to overturn Michigan's controversial emergency manager law are now in the hands of state elections officials.
The group Stand Up For Democracy Coalition began circulating the petitions last summer. On Wednesday, they turned in more than 226,000 signatures. Of those, 161,305 must be validated for the issue to be placed on the November ballot.
Critics say the law gives unconstitutional power to state-appointed emergency managers, who have authority to toss out union contracts and strip power from locally elected officials.
Local 4 cameras caught up with the group as they loaded the boxes of signatures into a trailer before starting their drive to Lansing.
Jonahan Drake helped get the signatures, which were collected in every Michigan county.
"Going to different places, big events. We did the fireworks show, we did carnivals, we did out on the street, door-to-door. We were everywhere," he said. "It was hard work getting people to understand what was going on, how they were taking away the people's right to vote and right to decide what goes on in their city, county or school board."
About 250 supporters of the petition drive marched in Lansing on Wednesday. They formed a human chain outside the Richard Austin Building, handling fifty boxes of petitions.
"If you believe in gangster politics, changes are possible when you threaten people," said the Rev. David Bullock, president of the Detroit Chapter of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. "But I believe in democracy. We elected our city council. We elected our mayor."
The emergency manager law was sponsored by Republican Rep. Al Pscholka. His district includes Benton Harbor, which already has an emergency financial manager.
"This issue is not about democracy. It's about money," he said. "Public Act 4 didn't create the fiscal problems in these various communities. It was the actions of the folks that were there."
According to state law, once the Secretary of State formally accepts the petitions, the Board of State Canvassers has 60 days to canvass the petitions and certify whether they meet the requirements of state law, including the necessary number of valid signatures.
"Until the petitions are ultimately certified as sufficient by our state election officials, Public Act 4 of 2011 will remain in effect," said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. "If the petitioners achieve the proper certification, Public Act 4 will be suspended pending the outcome of the referendum vote in November and the previous state law governing emergency financial managers, Public Act 72 of 1990, will govern in the interim."
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