Local leaders and school officials are challenging a new state elections law in federal court.
The law limits how local government and education officials can talk about local ballot questions, banning them from using public funds to send informational communications about ballot questions – via mass mailings, radio, television, or recorded phone messages - 60 days before an election.
17 officials listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit call the new law a “gag order” that violates their rights to free speech and due process. They say that’s because the new requirements are overly broad, and they claim the state has no compelling interest to impose such limitations. “If I were to perform my duty, as I have performed it over the last 18 years, I would be subject to a fine, a jail sentence, and to charging with a misdemeanor – all because I tried to do my job,” said Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons.
“I’m frankly dumbfounded as to how I might explain to the thousands of elementary students in our schools how this new law is not an infringement on our rights,” said Dr. Robert Livernois, superintendent of Warren Consolidated Schools.
The group is seeking an immediate injunction to block enforcement of the law while the case plays out in court. The controversial measures contained in the bill were added late at night on the last day lawmakers met in 2015. It quickly passed both the state House and Senate without any committee hearings or public discussions on the new provisions. A number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they did not fully understand what they were voting on.
Supporters of the law say it’s necessary to keep taxpayer dollars from being used to influence local elections.