LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan voters in November will decide whether to revise some of the country's strictest legislative term limits and require state elected officials to report information about their finances to avoid conflicts of interest.
The Legislature on Tuesday unveiled the proposed constitutional amendment and placed it on the statewide ballot within hours, with no debate or notice. The move saved a ballot committee of business and labor groups from having to collect roughly 425,000 voter signatures, enabling backers to shift their attention to persuading voters to back the measure in the fall.
Michigan's 30-year-old term limits law, embedded in the state constitution, allows legislators to serve no more than 14 years, including three two-year House terms and two four-year Senate terms. The amendment — which the House and Senate passed 76-28 and 26-6 respectively — would allow them to serve up to 12 years: six two-year House terms, three four-year Senate terms or a combination.
Supporters said it would enable new lawmakers — particularly in the House, where the speaker and committee chairs have only two or four years of experience before leading — to focus on their job and build relationships instead of immediately looking to run for the Senate or find work outside the Legislature.
“It's a crash course. I came in with 60-some brand-new people out of 110. We had a leader who had only been in the chamber himself for two years. It is not a practical way to run a legislative body. As you go around the country, you'll see a lot of examples of legislative bodies that function a lot better than our House of Representatives,” said Sen. Ed McBroom, a Vulcan Republican who previously served in the House.
Opponents, who are mobilizing against the measure, said it is being mischaracterized as a way to improve term limits when it would weaken them by increasing how long how long legislators could be in a chamber and give term-limited members a chance to return to Lansing.
Patrick Anderson, who authored the 1992 initiative, criticized the Legislature for hastily approving the new amendment with no debate and notice. He called it an “ambush.”
“Whether you like term limits or not, this is a disgrace,” he said, vowing that it "is not going to slip unnoticed into the voting booth.”
Fifteen states have legislative term limits. Michigan is among six with lifetime restrictions. Of those, California and Oklahoma’s are 12 years, but allow lawmakers to serve all of it in one chamber.
The initiative also would require lawmakers, the governor, the lieutenant governor, the secretary of state and the attorney general to file annual financial disclosure reports starting in 2024. Attempts to mandate such reports have stalled for years in the Legislature, even though Michigan is among just two states where legislators pass and reject laws without the public knowing about their personal finances.
The officials would have to describe their assets, non-employment income and liabilities, and disclose their sources of earned income. They also would have to list their positions with organizations, businesses, nonprofits, labor unions and educational institutions except state government; agreements related to future employment; gifts, travel payments and reimbursements that must be reported by lobbyists; and charitable donations made by others in lieu of honoraria.
The disclosure requirements proposed by the Legislature are not as tight as those included by the ballot group that was circulating petitions.
Sen. Jeremy Moss, a Southfield Democrat, noted that Michigan lags nearly every state on financial disclosure and other transparency issues such as public-records requests.
“Right now there is nothing. It's kind of this free-for-all. We see legislators who voluntarily recuse themselves from votes, but it's self-policing,” he said.
If the ballot measure is adopted, he said, lawmakers would be required to pass a bill implementing the disclosure requirements.
“It's all about setting the floor and building up from there,” Moss said.
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