‘Stalling tactics’ delay state board's vote on ballot initiatives

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DELTA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WILX) - The merits of two ballot initiatives were supposed to be the main discussion point at the Michigan Board of State Canvassers meeting Thursday.

Instead, it was the definition of a business day.

The four-member, bipartisan board was to vote on certifying ballot initiatives that look to raise Michigan’s minimum wage and offer guaranteed paid family leave to all workers. But before the legitimacy of the petitions could be argued, an issue of timing came into question.

At the beginning of his testimony, attorney Eric Doster, representing Small Business for a Better Michigan, a group challenging the paid sick leave proposal, brought up a portion of state election law that governs when board staff should release its reports before a meeting.

“At least two business days before the board of state canvassers meets to make a final determination on challenges to and sufficiency of a petition, the bureau of elections shall make public its staff report concerning disposition of challenges filed against the petition,” it reads.

Board staff released its reports exactly 48 hours before today’s meeting, according to staff attorney Melissa Malerman.

“We started here at 10 a.m. and we released our reports Tuesday at 10 a.m.,” Malerman said. “Our position has been that 48 hours is the same as two business days.”

But according to an administrative rule referenced by Doster, two business days is technically two full days.

Even though the board normally operates according its 48-hour position, it decided to recognize Doster’s challenge and delay the vote until Friday.

“I'm absolutely appalled at these stalling tactics,” said Dr. Alicia Renee Farris from Michigan One Fair Wage, which organized the minimum wage petition. “I feel like it's certainly an effort (by challengers) to run out the clock and to suppress votes and to disenfranchise voters.”

In its reports, board staff recommended both initiatives be certified. But, this delay of slightly more than a day will not stop the initiatives from appearing on the ballot in time.

“This timing issue is not an impediment,” Malerman said, pointing out the legal deadline for the board to certify the ballot proposals is Monday.

If certified, the state legislature has 40 days to enact into law, reject or change the initiatives. If not enacted by the legislature, the initiatives go on the November ballot.

The ballot initiatives

Though the board did not vote on certifying the initiatives, it still heard testimony.

The initiative from Michigan One Fair Wage would increase Michigan’s minimum wage from $9.25 per hour to $10 next year and to $12 by 2024. Tipped workers would also earn $12 per hour by then, up from their current minimum hourly wage of $3.52 before tips. Farris said it will positively impact more than 1 million Michigan households and add nearly $2 billion to the economy.

Representatives from Michigan Opportunity, an organization with ties to the restaurant industry, issued four challenges to the initiative. They alleged, among other things, that the petition’s format was wrong and that some signatures were invalid because signers wrote down both the city and township they lived in.

But, as Mark Brewer, an attorney representing both initiatives, stressed to the board, none of the challenges related to the signatures themselves.

“There are no challenges to the signatures filed here,” Brewer said. “The staff review has found more than enough valid signatures to certify this proposal.”

The paid sick leave initiative is led by MI Time to Care. The proposal would allow every Michigan worker to earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they work, expanding sick leave to 2 million more workers.

Doster argued, too, that signatures with more than one municipality listed should invalidate the proposal. However, according to the board’s staff report, it is “longstanding policy” that signatures like this are valid.

Leaders of each initiative are confident the board will vote to certify Friday, especially since board staff recommended certification.

“They said we have enough signatures, and the staff has verified that,” Farris said. “So there’s nothing to be said.”

“We have more than enough signatures to get on the ballot,” said Danielle Atkinson, co-chair of the MI Time to Care campaign. “We deserve a chance for voters to have their say.”

The board will reconvene Friday, July 27, at 4:30 p.m. at Lansing’s Delta Township Hall, meeting room A.