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Nessel opinion rejects GOP-backed law that restricts petition campaigns

people collecting signatures
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
A legal opinion from state Attorney General Dana Nessel throws into doubt the future of a law adopted last year. The law makes it harder for petition campaigns to put political questions directly to voters.

Update: Thursday, May 23, 5:25 p.m.

The future of a ballot-signature law passed last year is unclear.  On Wednesday, Attorney General Dana Nessel said that parts of the law that adds requirements to the ballot signature process are unconstitutional. Now Republican lawmakers and others are working on their next steps.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey says he’s waiting to see if Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson actually follows through on the order before deciding what to do.

But the state representative who spearheaded the bill, Jim Lower, R-Greenville, would like to get clarification right away. He says he wants the Speaker of the House to look into a court challenge.

“You know, I’d like to see it, you know, if there’s a legal effort put forward, it’d be nice to have that settled sooner rather than later,” he says.

A group also filed a lawsuit in the Court of Claims saying the law is unconstitutional. They want a court to permanently prevent the Secretary of State’s office from using the law.

Original post: Thursday, May 23, 7:30 a.m.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has issued an opinion that says a law adopted late last year by the Legislature is not constitutional. The law makes it harder for petition campaigns to put political questions directly to voters.

The law was adopted by Republicans in the Legislature before it was signed by then-Governor Rick Snyder.

The opinion from Nessel – a Democrat – says the law violates multiple provisions of the state Constitution.

One of the restrictions requires petition campaigns to gather no more than 15 percent of signatures from any one congressional district. Nessel says that makes it too difficult for people to exercise their rights. She says the law also violates free speech rights.

Michigan allows voters to use petition drives to challenge laws, to adopt laws, and to amend the state Constitution. Republican leaders haven’t revealed their next move, but a legal battle is likely.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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