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Press Release


Contact:

Kathy Barks Hoffman
517-485-6600

Matt Bach
Director of Media Relations
Michigan Municipal League
(734) 669-6317
mbach@mml.org; www.mml.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jan. 7, 2016

Civic and Education Leaders Call for Repeal of Gag Provision in PA 269/SB 571

60-day Gag Order Officially Starts Friday for March 8 Election

LANSING, Mich. – A coalition of organizations representing local government and schools is calling for a repeal of a gag order provision included in a campaign finance bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday, Jan. 6.

The Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, Michigan Association of School Administrators, Michigan Association of School Boards and Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators today are jointly seeking removal of language added to Section 57 in PA 269/SB 571. The organizations also are responding to Gov. Rick Snyder’s letter to lawmakers asking them to fix a section in the new law that drastically limits the ways local officials can inform voters about local ballot measures:

“Public Act 269 essentially gags local officials from giving voters important information on local ballot issues, and the only way to fix that is to repeal that new addition to the law,” said Dan Gilmartin, executive director and CEO of the Michigan Municipal League. “City, township, county, school and other officials agree that constituents need to have the facts to become informed voters on key matters that come before them, including charter changes, land transfers, millage questions and other issues required by state law to go to local elections. Repealing the provision is the only way to guarantee officials will be able to continue to give voters the facts.”

The provisions causing such concern ban local officials or employees of local governments from using public resources for a communication 60 days before an election “by means of radio, television, mass mailing or prerecorded telephone message if that communication references a local ballot question.”

The coalition points out that Gov. Snyder, in signing Senate Bill 571 into law Wednesday, called on the Legislature to enact new legislation to address local government and school officials’ concerns. The governor stated in his letter to lawmakers that local governments 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.”

The groups behind today’s statement agree that local governments should be able to communicate basic information that’s factual and does not sway the voting public. However, the language in Section 57 does not allow for that – therefore a repeal is necessary.

"Voters are entitled to, and expect, their local officials to fully explain the ramifications of local ballot issues," said Larry Merrill, executive director of the Michigan Townships Association. "Local public bodies are regularly required by law to defer to the wisdom of voters on many complex issues of public policy. It is imperative that voters be well-informed on the purpose, intent and consequences of the decisions they make when they vote on local ballot issues.

“This is a matter of extreme importance to the principle of local democracy,” Merrill added. “Contrary to the characterization of interest groups supporting these restrictions, local elected officials are neither ‘bureaucrats’ nor ‘lobbyists,’ but are persons who have been elected by these same voters to serve as trustees and fiduciaries of the public interest."

State law already prohibits electioneering using public resources, making that section of the new law unnecessary and possibly unconstitutional. In recent days a number of legislators who voted for the bill admitted they were not aware of its scope and some have expressed regret at the limitations created by the local ballot measure section.

Michigan Association of Counties Executive Director Timothy K. McGuire said, “This is about effective, transparent government. The law in its current form harms counties’ ability to be transparent with their residents.”

The groups issuing today’s statement want the provision removed from PA 269 immediately because the law took effect Wednesday, Jan. 6, and will impact nearly 50 school districts and local governments in communities from Benton Harbor to Iron County in the Upper Peninsula that have local ballot questions in the upcoming election. Entities with ballot items heading to voters on March 8 include Clare County, East Grand Rapids Public Schools, Goodrich Schools, Lansing School District, Ottawa County, Pontiac School District, Tuscola County, Iron County, and the cities of Birmingham, Fremont, Marine City, Romulus and Roseville.

“Those entities with items on the March 8 ballot will be within that 60-day window on Jan. 8 and under the gag order called for in the current law,” said Don Wotruba, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards.

“Voters need access to accurate information on how the money would be spent and what the consequences will be for area children – including their own – if school districts win or lose those elections,” he added. “School and local officials already are banned from advocating for a tax increase or bond renewal. They shouldn’t be banned from giving voters the facts.”

 

About Michigan Municipal League:
Michigan Municipal League is dedicated to making Michigan’s communities better by thoughtfully innovating programs, energetically connecting ideas and people, actively serving members with resources and services, and passionately inspiring positive change for Michigan’s greatest centers of potential: its communities. The League advocates on behalf of its member communities in Lansing, Washington, D.C., and the courts; provides educational opportunities for elected and appointed municipal officials; and assists municipal leaders in administering services to their communities through League programs and services. Learn more at mml.org.


 

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