LANSING, Mich. – A group gathering signatures to change Michigan's term limits law on Monday urged the Legislature to directly put the initiative on the ballot, saying it would give voters more time to assess the proposal.
The ballot committee Voters for Transparency and Term Limits wants to amend the state constitution to shorten legislative term limits from 14 years to 12 years but let lawmakers serve the entire time in one chamber. The broad coalition of business, labor and political leaders has two paths to advance the measure to a fall vote: submitting about 425,000 voter signatures by July 11 or persuading two-thirds of legislators in both the House and Senate to place it on the ballot by Sept. 9.
“We're gaining momentum, and we are determined to get this proposal on the ballot in November,” said Rich Studley, former CEO of the conservative-leaning Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “The sooner we can start a healthy debate between Michiganders about amending our state constitution, the better off we will be.”
Asked if he was concerned that the group will be unable to collect enough signatures, Detroit's Democratic mayor, Mike Duggan, said “no.” But he added that the signatures would not be certified until August, shortening proponents' window to sell the proposal's merits to voters.
A constitutional provision approved by voters in 1992 allows legislators to serve no more than 14 years, including three two-year House terms and two four-year Senate terms. The new initiative would allow them to serve up to 12 years — six two-year House terms, three four-year Senate terms or a combination.
Organizers say it would enable new lawmakers, particularly in the House, to focus on their job instead of looking to run for Senate or find work outside the Legislature.
The measure would require state elected officials to publicly disclose their personal financial information, like members of Congress must do. Michigan is one of two states where legislators pass and reject laws without the public knowing about their finances, but attempts to require such reports have stalled for years in the Republican-led Legislature.
Legislative leaders might be open to sending the initiative to voters.
“I’ve long said that we need to revisit term limits and improve transparency without discouraging good people from running for office. If enough of my colleagues agree that the voters should have their say on both of these issues, we’ll hold a vote to put it on the ballot,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican, said in a statement.
The spokesperson for Republican House Speaker Jason Wentworth, of Farwell, said Wentworth will listen to the GOP caucus.
“If they agree to send this to the ballot and give the voters a chance to decide, he will talk to the Senate and the House Democrats about how to handle the proposal,” Gideon D'Assandro said.
Last week, backers of the 1992 term limits law formed a group to oppose the “disingenuous” initiative. They said it is being mischaracterized as a proposal to improve term limits when it would double how many terms a House member could serve.
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