House clarifies Michigan ‘gag order’ law on clerks

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Social relations and policy senior Kayla Smith

Social relations and policy senior Kayla Smith

By Rene Kiss
MI First Election

The state House approved House Bill 5219 on Feb. 23, which aims to fix a provision of a recently approved law that prohibits public bodies from distributing information 60 days before an election.

The law, an amendment to Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act, was stopped by an injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara on Feb. 5.

Democrats and local government officials were critical of Senate Bill 571, not only for its content but for the manner in which it was approved through a late night-session in December when 12 pages were replaced with 53.

“To me there is no logical rationale for what the Legislature did,” Michigan State University journalism professor Eric Freedman said.

According to an analysis by the House Fiscal Agency, of the several hundred ballot questions only 24 complaints alleged that public bodies were advocating for a proposal. Of those, only 13 were found to be violations.

“It has been repeatedly pointed out the new law addresses a non-existent issue,” said Chris Hackbarth, state affairs director for the Michigan Municipal League in a statement on Feb. 23.

The revision to the bill, sponsored by State Rep. Lisa Lyons, R-Alto, eliminates the 60 day prohibition and will allow local officials to communicate electoral information as long as it is “factual” and “neutral.”

Social relations and policy major Kayla Smith said she understands the intention of the law, but that it should be repealed instead of modified.

“They just don’t want taxpayer dollars being used to swing votes,” Smith said. “But officials couldn’t even do that before, so all this really does is just make everyone really angry and really confused.”

The bill was approved 60-46, and now moves to the Senate.

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