Douglas Officials Join Call To Repeal State "Gag Law" On Ballot Issues
With the March 8 election quickly approaching (the local electorate will be voting on the presidential primary and the next state representative for District 80), the City of Douglas has joined numerous civic and education leaders across the state of Michigan in their call for repeal of Public Act 269 (Senate Bill 571), or what its critics say amounts to a “gag order” that prohibits local public officials from informing and educating their constituents about ballot issues.
Senate Bill 571, if passed, would repeal Public Act 269.
“(Public Act 269) limits ballot discussion for local public entities during 60 days before an election,” said Douglas City Manager Bill LeFevere at the February 15 city council meeting.
The Douglas City Council approved a resolution urging the repeal of the new state campaign finance law which took effect Jan. 6 after approval by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
Proponents of the new campaign finance law say it is meant to prevent the use of public funds by public officials to influence voters to vote a certain way as well as stop taxpayer funding of ballot advertising.
Critics say it prevents educating and informing the public, in a factual and neutral fashion, on millages and elections.
Furthermore, they say Michigan already has, via the Michigan Campaign Finance Law prior to PA 269, plenty of safeguards to insure against public officials using taxpayer dollars to push for and advocate a certain position on ballot issues.
“This bill passed with no discussion, no debate, at the 11th hour by the legislature,” said LeFevere. “Everyone is urging the legislature to repeal this. It’s absurd.”
With the March 8 election looming and more than 100 municipalities and school districts in Michigan having ballot proposals slated for public vote,
Michigan Municipal League’s (MML) Board of Trustees quickly responded by forming a coalition of local government and school associations to challenge the law in federal court.
Their ongoing efforts have so far proved successful.
On February 5, U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara issued an injunction ordering the State of Michigan to stop enforcing PA 269 (the so-called ‘gag law) until the court could, with further analysis, determine whether or not the new law is constitutional as it concerns free speech rights.
A copy of that injunction was part of the February 15 Douglas agenda.
“Public officials deserve clarity on this issue so that they may serve the public in the normal course without fear of arbitrary sanction or prosecution,” states the O’Meara’s order.
A formal hearing on the merits of the overall case has not yet been set.