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Michigan Emergency Manager Law Headed For Ballot After Court Declines To Review Panel Decision [UPDATE]

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Michigan's appeals court declined a request from a panel of three of its judges Thursday, June 14, 2012. The panel unanimously approved the validity of petitions to put a referendum on Michigan's emergency, but were unhappy with their own decision.
Michigan's appeals court declined a request from a panel of three of its judges Thursday, June 14, 2012. The panel unanimously approved the validity of petitions to put a referendum on Michigan's emergency, but were unhappy with their own decision.

UPDATE: Friday, 2:00 p.m -- Sara Wurfel, press secretary of Gov. Rick Snyder, emailed The Huffington Post a statement late Thursday night regarding the Court of Appeal's decision to decline to review the decision of the three-judge panel. "As for the ruling earlier today, my comment is that we’re disappointed that the Court didn’t appoint the special panel and help resolve the conflict and uncertainty around this issue and that are facing our struggling communities and schools. Ensuring that these communities and schools have the tools they need to get back on sound financial footing and provide effective services to their residents, parents, and students remains a top priority."

Wurfel also addressed uncertainties surrounding the possible suspension of Public Act 4. "IF PA 4 is suspended, our interpretation, understanding and position –- based upon legal review -– is that Michigan automatically reverts back to the state’s previous emergency manager law, Public Act 72."

The Public Act 72 of 1990 was Michigan's original emergency manager and fiscal responsibility legislation. Crucially, the 1990 act doesn't allow mayors to automatically impose new terms on expired contracts with unionized employees. Crain's Detroit Business reports that 80% of the city of Detroit's union contracts will expire at the end of June. If Public Act 4 is struck down, it seems as if Bing will be headed to the negotiation table.

EARLIER ...

Come November, Michigan voters still may receive a ballot with an initiative to keep or strike down the controversial law that gives the state broad powers over financially struggling municipalities.

While a three-judge panel ruled last week that the petitions to put Public Act 4 up for referendum were valid, they reportedly disagreed with their own decision and requested the 28-member Court of Appeals consider creating a second, special panel to review their ruling.

The Associated Press reports Thursday the full court declined the panel's request for review.

"The court seems to have recognized that the people have a constitutional right to vote on this manner," said Sugar Law Center Legal Director John Philo. The firm is providing legal counsel to Stand Up For Democracy, the petition backers in the appeal case.

The group aims to place a referendum for Public Act 4 on the November ballot, ultimately hoping voters will repeal the law they say undermines local democracy. The state has appointed emergency managers to four financially struggling cities: Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor and Ecorse, along with three school districts. If the law were to be suspended or repealed, the state has said the law would revert to Public Act 72, limiting the powers of state appointees but not removing them. Supporters of Public Act 4 say the law allows the state to intervene on behalf of municipalities and districts threatened by bankruptcy.

The petition's route from signatures to ballot has been a bumpy one. Its backers delivered an estimated 203,000 signatures, far more than the necessary 161,000 signatures to the state in February. The state Board of Canvassers deadlocked over its validity, as the board's two Republicans members supported a challenge over font size.

The font challenge has been advanced by advocacy group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility argued the petition did not use the required 14-point font stipulated by the state Board of Canvassers., though others, including a Michigan State University graphic design professor asked by the Secretary of State to review the challenge, have said the font size was indeed correct.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the panel of judges who ruled in favor of the petition weren't happy with their own decision, and would have ruled it invalid had they not been required to follow the decision made in an earlier case., 2002's Bloomfield Charter Twp. v. Oakland County Clerk. The panel also unanimously concurred that they felt Bloomfield had been wrongly decided.

Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility spokesman Robert "Bob" LaBrant said the group plans to appeal the decision in the next several weeks.

"The issue is the Michigan Election Law says that the heading of the petition shall be in 14 bold-face type," LaBrant said. "It doesn't say, 'kind of close to 14 bold-face type.' It says, 'shall.' That's mandatory under all the case law here in Michigan."

LaBrant is confident the Michigan Supreme Court would rule in favor of Citizens For Fiscal Responsibility. The deadline for certifying the referendum on the ballot is August 27; Sugar Law's Philo says he doesn't believe any further delays will arise that could keep this initiative off the ballot for voters this fall.

For full coverage of emergency managers in Michigan, check out HuffPost's big news page.

Ashley C. Woods contributed additional reporting to this story.

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