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Speer: Proposals try to circumvent system

September 14, 2012
Bill Speer - Editor/Publisher , The Alpena News

Two years ago this November you and I expressed our opinion whether or not to call for a Constitutional Convention in 2011.

We agreed it was not needed, voting 66-33 percent against it. The same held true in 1994 and 1978. Per the Constitution, every 16 years voters must be given the option whether to call for a convention or not.

I believe it is not too far a stretch to argue residents basically were content with the Constitution as it is written, and didn't believe it needed re-examined and revised.

Why then, I wonder this morning, do state voters this November face six statewide ballot issues - five of which contain constitutional amendments?

Let's put this in perspective. Since 1964, when today's state Constitution first went into effect, 71 amendments have been proposed. That's a period of 49 years, which means an average of roughly 1.5 amendment changes being proposed every year. Of the 71, only 32 have passed, for a success rate of 46.4 percent.

I believe there is good reason why that has been the case. And, I'm not alone. In the words of former Alpena attorney Frank Kelley, our nation's longest serving state attorney general, "the Constitution is a document that provides what powers our government can have and what rights of freedom we citizens of that government can enjoy. The Constitution is not to be used for passing independent laws for enriching special interest groups by granting them uncontrolled power."

That, my friends, is my biggest fear with the five proposed constitutional amendments in November. Each seems to bypass the normal legislative process that would have seemed more appropriate in these instances, and instead, looks to directly change our state's constitution.

If successful, once the Constitution has been altered it becomes increasingly more difficult then to change, should an amendment have flaws.

Look at the 25 by 25 proposal as an example. I don't know about you, but my crystal ball isn't all that clear. While no one in their right mind is against the concept of renewable energy, the proposed amendment is specific in its definition of what constitutes "renewable" energy - hydro, solar, bio-mass and wind.

Think about this for a minute. Bio-mass wasn't even a concept most people were familiar with five years ago. That being the case, and your crystal ball being as clouded as mine, do we really want to lock ourselves into such a narrow definition of "renewables?" What happens five years from today, in 2017, when a new and better renewable is out there? Residents won't be able to easily undo the original wording, and thus, would have to wait eight more years to include that new renewable process as a realistic alternative in Michigan's renewable energy smorgasbord.

That's crazy. And, I won't even get into a debate here about the unrealistic expectations of hydro, solar and bio-mass, leaving us with primarily wind as the only viable option under this proposal. How do you think wind turbines will look in Lake Huron?

Or, look at another proposed amendment on the November ballot - the collective bargaining, or "Protect Our Jobs" amendment. According to officials with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy should the amendment be approved, it could repeal, in different degrees, 170 laws in Michigan dealing with labor issues.

According to the lobbying group against the amendment - Hands Off Our Constitution - one of those laws would be Public Act 112, a law that penalizes Michigan teachers for walking off the job.

Hello Chicago.

Ultimately the best unbiased source I researched is the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. According to its mission, "the objective of CRC has been to provide factual, unbiased, independent information on significant issues concerning state and local government organization and finance."

In a September memo, "Inserting Legal Code into the Michigan Constitution," the study contends that each of the five constitutional amendments in November "seek to impose checks on legislative discretion or restrain the ability of the legislature to change policies in the future."

Specifically, the study reported:

I believe in a government system of checks and balances. These amendments completely do away with that system, something I find hard to swallow. Instead, they place all the power with special interest groups and their money.

Suffice to say, I'm not supporting these five which circumvent our system and alter the Constitution.

If you want change, fine. Go about it through legislation, not through a constitutional amendment.



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