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Advocacy Blue Arrows

PA 269/SB 571

Victory for Communities!

Federal Court Permanently Enjoins Secretary of State from Enforcing Gag Order Law, April 28, 2016

Guidance for Municipalities

Michigan Communities' Legal Challenge to PA 269 "Gag Order" Law: Federal Court Decision - Proceed with Caution

Lawsuit

Civic, Education Leaders Win Preliminary Injunction against Michigan 'Gag Order' Law

Hon. John Corbett O'Meara's order granting plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction in ROBERT TAYLOR, et al v RUTH JOHNSON

ROBERT TAYLOR, et al v RUTH JOHNSON, Secretary of the State of Michigan, and the STATE OF MICHIGAN, Jan.. 26, 2016

Helpful Information

Sample Resolution

Entitles Putting Items on the March 8, 2016 Ballot

Withholding Information from Citizens Will Hurt Government (Citizens Research Council of Michigan)

Don't Clarify Gag Order, Get Rid of It - Times Herald, Feb. 24, 2016

Explanation and Talking Points

History
SB 571 was initially a non-controversial 12-page bill that had bipartisan support. But on late Wednesday night (Dec. 17, 2015) the House brought the bill up for consideration and a substitute version was adopted that increased the 12-page bill to 53 pages in length. This included inserting new language into Section 57 of the existing act that deals with permissible and prohibited activities by public bodies on election-related issues. This language was inserted without any notice to the League or other local government organizations and moved without any public testimony, let alone public awareness of what was in the new version of the bill. The bill was passed around 10:30 pm Dec. 17 largely along party lines and sent to Governor Snyder for his signature.

The new language in Section 57 states:

(3) EXCEPT FOR AN ELECTION OFFICIAL IN THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS OR HER DUTIES UNDER THE MICHIGAN ELECTION LAW, 1954 PA 116, MCL 168.1 TO 168.992, A PUBLIC BODY, OR A PERSON ACTING FOR A PUBLIC BODY, SHALL NOT, DURING THE PERIOD 60 DAYS BEFORE AN ELECTION IN WHICH A LOCAL BALLOT QUESTION APPEARS ON A BALLOT, USE PUBLIC FUNDS OR RESOURCES FOR A COMMUNICATION BY MEANS OF RADIO, TELEVISION, MASS MAILING, OR PRERECORDED TELEPHONE MESSAGE IF THAT COMMUNICATION REFERENCES A LOCAL BALLOT QUESTION AND IS TARGETED TO THE RELEVANT ELECTORATE WHERE THE LOCAL BALLOT QUESTION APPEARS ON THE BALLOT.

In the days and weeks following approval of SB 571, many legislators—both Republicans and Democrats—said they did not fully read or know what was in the amended language. Some Republicans, after reading the bill and learning of its full negative implications and many unanswered questions, even said they encouraged the governor to veto the bill.

Despite the many concerns raised about the bill, Governor Snyder signed it into law Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. The governor, in a somewhat unusual move, sent out a letter explaining why he signed the legislation despite the many unknowns and questions about the bill.

In his letter, the governor also called on the Legislature to enact new legislation to address the many concerns raised by the Michigan Municipal League and other organizations. Here is an excerpt from that letter:

However, recognizing that many local governmental entities and schools have raised concerns regarding confusion with the new language in section 57, I am calling on the Legislature to enact new legislation to address those concerns, and clarify that the new language does not impact the expression of personal views by a public official, the use of resources or facilities in the ordinary course of business, and that it is intended only to prohibit the use of targeted, advertisement style mass communications that are reasonably interpreted as an attempt to influence the electorate using taxpayer dollars. Local governmental entities and schools should still be allowed to distribute basic information about an election including the proposed or final ballot language and the date of the election. This is keeping within the spirit of the existing restrictions in the Act. The Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House have agreed to work together on follow-up legislation clarifying the provision in section 57 of the Act in time for the March 2016 election.


New legislation to “fix” PA 269/SB 571 could be dropped in the Legislature as early as next week (week of Jan 11, 2016).

The League and several other organizations, including the Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Association of School Administrators, believe there are significant constitutional and legal questions regarding PA 269, including a potential ban on freedom of speech. Repealing the provision is the only way to guarantee officials will be able to continue to give voters the facts. Ironically, Section 57, prior to the new language in SB 571, already provided the controls lawmakers were seeking.

Specific concerns with the new language:

  • The previous language in Section 57 (prior to the amendments) appropriately provided an allowance of elected and appointed officials to express their views without fear of violating the act. This new subsection does not appear to account for that allowance and could be read as a ban on freedom of speech.

  • The prohibition on any communication by television that references a local ballot question would seem to put every public access broadcast of a city council meeting at risk for violating this new provision. There is also no allowance for a public broadcast of a debate or voter forum, even if that forum is hosted by a third party.

  • Community newsletters, and potentially even election-day reminders, that are mailed to residents could be banned under this language.

  • Because this language specifically bans communication on only local ballot questions, the provision creates inconsistent treatment between communicating with residents on statewide ballot questions versus local questions.

  • Any violation of this section puts a community at risk for a state fine of up to $20,000 and for an individual a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a year in jail.

  • Because the law took immediate effect, it places an immediate gag order on local government entities with issues on the March 8, 2016 ballot and all subsequent elections. This impacts more than 100 cities, villages, townships, school districts, counties, and other entities that have ballot questions before the voters in the March 8 election.

In summary, this language puts an undue burden on communities and their residents, blocking access to unbiased, objective communication on the local issues that matter most to the residents in every community in Michigan.  Please contact your lawmakers and tell them to repeal the new language in Section 57 of PA 269.

View a joint statement from the League and other organizations calling for a repeal of this new language.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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