Debate over bill limiting ballot education efforts


LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A group of government leaders gathered in Lansing Tuesday to urge Gov. Rick Snyder to veto a bill that’s made it to his desk.

The Michigan Municipal League calls the bill a “gag order” that would block school districts and municipalities from informing the public about important ballot measures two months before an election.

Specifically, the legislation — Senate Bill 571 — includes provisions that would prohibit local officials from using public funds or resources to communicate to the public 60 days before an election “by means of radio, television, mass mailing or prerecorded telephone message if that communication references a local ballot question.”

As state law currently stands, city, county, school and other officials are not allowed to use public funds to advocate one way or another for millages or others issues on the ballot. But they are allowed to inform the public about the facts on those matters. If this legislation is signed into law, that would change.

State Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, told 24 Hour News 8 that it’s dangerous legislation.

“Public bodies should be able to tell you exactly how much the millage is, how long it’s going to be, what its stated uses are for. That’s something that voters have a right to hear,” Hoadley said.

Republicans in favor of the legislation contend that local officials often use tax dollars to go beyond just providing the facts.

“It’s a very fine line between informing and advocating. And I would say that a lot of informing is more or less advocating,” state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, told 24 Hour News 8.

Schuitmaker and some Republicans said that officials could instead create campaign committees and fundraise to promote votes.

“When we as taxpayers send our money to schools to support our schools, we want that money going directly into the classroom, not going to advocate to pay higher taxes for new buildings,” she said.

Hoadley said it wasn’t just the substance of the bill that prompted his no vote; it was the process. He said what was originally a 12-page bill was substituted for one that’s 53 pages long and that lawmakers didn’t have enough time to review it before it was passed.

“They abuse this substitute process,” Hoadley said. “That’s why I’m not surprised that a number of my colleagues now, who clearly did not have time to read the full bill or debate the merits and implications of this bill, are saying ‘maybe we could go back to the drawing board on this one.'”

The governor has until Jan. 11 to decide whether to sign or veto the legislation.

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Online:

Senate Bill 571

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