Health Care, Medical Marijuana Proposals Advance

December 18, 2007

, Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan's November 2008 ballot could become a bit more crowded, possibly including proposals to provide universal health care coverage and allow marijuana use for medical purposes.

Those proposals, among others, took procedural steps forward Wednesday with action by a state elections panel.

Other possible petition drives in the works would create a part-time Legislature in Michigan and require a statewide vote to raise certain taxes, a proposal that also could repeal tax increases put in place this year.

Most of the proposals are in preliminary stages. In most cases, organizers still have to collect the more than 380,000 valid signatures required to put proposals to change the state constitution before voters.

The most advanced proposal is backed by the Coalition for Compassionate Care, which wants to follow the lead of a dozen other states and legalize marijuana for medical purposes. The group has submitted an estimated 496,000 signatures to state elections officials.

The Board of State Canvassers will establish an exact deadline to challenge those signatures once elections officials finish reviewing a sample of the petitions early next year. If 304,101 signatures are valid, the proposal would first go the state Legislature. If lawmakers don't approve it, the proposal would go to voters.

The initiative would allow qualified, seriously ill patients to use and grow a limited amount of marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a doctor.

Another proposal would require the state Legislature to pass laws to ensure that every Michigan citizen has affordable and comprehensive health care coverage. The still-growing coalition, called Health Care for Michigan, includes the AARP.

Steve Gools, the AARP's director in Michigan, said the measure could prompt the state Legislature to move on health care reform. Some members of the group say more coverage could be provided for Michigan's uninsured by spending the money now going toward health care more wisely.

"The system is falling apart as we watch it," said Gary Benjamin, an attorney and a spokesman for the group. "No one is doing very much to fix it."

An estimated 850,000 to 1 million Michigan residents are uninsured.

The proposal concerns business groups who worry about the potential cost for businesses and taxpayers. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce says the proposal is vague and could take years to define through court fights.

"Certainly we feel the goal of the group is laudable," said Wendy Block of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. "But we have serious questions about what is meant by 'affordable' and 'comprehensive."'

The state elections panel approved the form of the group's petitions Wednesday, but more than 380,000 signatures would need to be collected and certified to put the measure before voters.

The panel also approved the form of petitions for a group that wants to create a part-time Legislature in Michigan. The proposal also would reduce lawmaker pay and benefits. Signatures still need to be collected.

A group called the People's Choice Tax Repeal Committee wants to give voters more say in tax issues. Its proposal would require a statewide vote on any state law that creates a new tax, continues a tax, reduces a tax deduction, or increases the effective rate of a tax. It could affect an income tax increase that was approved by the Legislature this year.

The group's petition form has not been approved. Members of the state elections panel had concerns about the size and amount of print on the front of the petition, which could be reworked to meet their satisfaction later.



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