Part-time Legislature ballot drive moves ahead

Advocates wanting to make Michigan's Legislature meet part-time instead of year-round got the green light Thursday to begin collecting signatures in an attempt to qualify their measure for the November statewide ballot.
AP Wire
Feb 7, 2014

The constitutional amendment would limit lawmakers to meeting in a regular session for 60 days starting in early January. The governor could call them back for special sessions not exceeding 30 days, and their pay would be capped at $35,000 a year to start instead of the $71,685 they make now.

Michigan is among four states with a full-time legislature, though six others are considered near full-time because their lawmakers spend at least 80 percent of their time being legislators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Matt Davis, the lawyer for the Committee to Restore Michigan's Part-time Legislature, said the change would let people become lawmakers without having to give up their career and make the House and Senate more efficient.

"You're going to diversify the type of lawmakers you get — real people with real-world experience," he said.

The group has until July 7 to collect roughly 322,000 valid signatures. It could gather signatures with volunteers and paid circulators, Davis said.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce's board voted last week to oppose the part-time Legislature initiative, saying it would tip the balance of power to "bureaucracy" within the executive branch. Other critics have warned of more conflicts of interest with citizen legislators working multiple jobs.

"Imposing a part-time requirement on top of the most severe term limits in the country would seriously weaken the legislative branch of state government," said president and CEO Rich Studley.

Lawmakers had more than 100 session days last year, though they also typically meet with constituents, attend speaking engagements or conduct other business. They gathered for more than 80 session days in 2012, an election year.

The proposed amendment also would change a rule so bills modified by one chamber could not be adopted by the other chamber until the new version is posted online for five days, regardless of whether an earlier version had won approval. No more than 250 staff members could be hired to assist the 148-member Legislature.

Efforts to make the Legislature part-time have failed in the past, including two separate drives in 2008 that never reached a statewide vote. Various efforts by lawmakers to make the switch also have fizzled.

Also Thursday, the Board of State Canvassers approved the form of a petition turned in by Put the Citizens in Charge, which wants to amend the constitution in November to ease the signature-gathering process for ballot initiatives.

The proposal would keep intact the ability to pay people per signature collected, let them circulate petitions regardless of residency and prohibit signatures or proposals from being tossed because of "inconsequential" technical defects such as the wrong paper size.

A key change would permit signatures to be collected within an 18-month period instead of the current six-month window.

"It's about strengthening people's access to the initiative process. It's there as a voice for the people," said Scott Tillman, the committee's treasurer who also is a national petition drive specialist with the conservative Liberty Initiative Fund. "Too often we see that the restrictions are increased in the name of preventing fraud and abuse, but all it does is make it more difficult and costly for people to use the process."

Committee to Restore Michigan's Part-time Legislature: http://parttimemi.com/

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