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2016’s not over, but campaign for paid sick leave already eyeing 2018 ballot

After tomorrow's congressional and legislative primaries, just 97 days remain until Election Day 2016. Of course, it's never too early to look ahead to the 2018 elections and, at least one petition campaign is already making plans in that direction.

No statewide ballot question in 2016?

Normally, the organizers behind statewide ballot propositions try to take advantage of high voter turnout in presidential election years. But 2016 seems destined to become an exception -- a rare year in which a presidential election will come and go without a statewide proposition on the same ballot.

One of the petition campaigns that faltered would require employers to offer paid sick leave for workers. It folded in May when it became clear it would not collect enough signatures by the June 1st deadline. But Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward, the leader of the drive for paid sick leave, says the campaign is regrouping for 2018.

Ideally, they’d like to take advantage of summer, a time when people are typically outside and approachable, which can make signature-gathering easier. Events like political rallies also create opportunities with crowds of like-minded, politically engaged people.

The campaign would have to marshal the resources (that’s money and people) to get the job done in the six-month window required by state law. But Woodward and fellow organizers want to be ready, so they’re going to the Board of State Canvassers to get their petition approved for circulation. It’s a voluntary move, but a critical one because it can inoculate a petition campaign from technical challenges after the hard work of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Republicans out in front

There are also some other advantages to having a ready-to-go petition drive.

This same group was behind a 2014 petition to get a minimum wage hike on the ballot that also fell short on signatures. But not before it scared Republicans in the Legislature into trying to preempt that effort with a more-modest increase in the state minimum wage.

In fact, Republicans also tried to preempt the paid sick leave drive, too. In this case, though, GOP lawmakers adopted and Governor Rick Snyder signed a ban on local ordinances that deal with things like living wage and paid sick leave.

So, the prospect of a petition campaign also keeps the issue alive and in front of the public, and just might cause some political heartburn for Republicans who supported the local-ordinance ban.

State House outlook

A side-by-side petition effort could also help Democrats in November (although it could siphon money that could be spent on candidate campaigns). Democrats need to win nine seats -- a seriously difficult undertaking -- to gain a majority in the Michigan House of Representatives. But if they manage to turn the tide and swing the House into the blue column, it could redefine the last two years of Snyder's final term as governor.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.