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Lansing — The state Court of Appeals has ordered the Board of State Canvassers to certify the petition for a ballot proposal that would repeal the state’s prevailing wage law.

The unanimous decision maintained that circulators’ incorrect addresses were not enough to disqualify the petition and that the group opposing the ballot measure, Protecting Michigan Jobs, “asks us to find a penalty where none exists.”

The Court of Appeals ruling "completely guts Michigan’s election law by allowing petition circulators to conduct fraudulent activity.  The Michigan Legislature passed clear policy in 2014 to shore up the petition process, but the Court of Appeals today just ignored those reforms and threw them out the window,” said Patrick Devlin of Protect Michigan Jobs and secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

The Board of State Canvassers is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Tuesday to consider the prevailing wage repeal petition.

In a 2-2 vote in April, the board of two Democrats and two Republicans failed to certify the petition, which would get rid of a 1965 law that essentially requires union-level wages be paid to construction workers on publicly funded projects.

Repeal supporters argue the law inflates construction costs, while opponents maintain a repeal would lower wages and limit training programs they fund.

Protect Michigan Jobs persuaded the two Democratic canvassers to reject the petition because there were incorrect addresses for the circulators on some petitions. But a three-judge panel unanimously ordered the canvassers to put the prevailing wage ban proposal on the ballot.

“Jobs asks us to find a penalty where none exists,” Judge Elizabeth Gleicher, an appointee of Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, wrote in the ruling. “… Michigan’s election laws make no allowance for striking elector signatures in the event that a circulator records an incorrect address, and nothing in the relevant statutes conveys any intent to disenfranchise electors who were unaware of a circulator’s error or infraction.”

In a statement Friday, Protect Michigan Jobs officials said they planned to appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court, arguing that the decision called into question "the entire initiative process." 

“To say we’re floored by this decision is an understatement – it completely guts Michigan’s election law by allowing petition circulators to conduct fraudulent activity," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and a member of Protect Michigan Jobs. 

Jeff Wiggins, president for Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, the committee backing the initiative, said the group was urging the board to comply with the court opinion.

“We’re very happy the court came to the same conclusion we’ve had this entire time, that we’ve had the signatures and should have moved forward a long time ago,” Wiggins said.

Secretary of State Department spokesman Fred Woodhams said Bureau of Elections staff have not yet reviewed the signatures.

The Court of Appeals ruling appears to support an earlier opinion from the Attorney General’s office, which said the penalty for insufficient addresses for circulators is not the rejection of elector signatures.

House Speaker Tom Leonard has said Republicans likely have enough votes to pass the repeal measure, which is opposed by most Democrats. Senate Republicans approved similar legislation in 2015, and Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof of West Olive is a strong repeal supporter.

Leonard spokesman Gideon D'Assandro said the DeWitt Republican has supported the repeal and "he looks forward to getting this done for Michigan taxpayers, students and parents."

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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