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The People’s Voice Act – Will the Numbers Add Up?

Cannabis reform polls extremely well with the public — many actual legislative attempts going back over a decade get a green light from significantly more than half the people in Wisconsin, including Republicans.

As we know, cannabis bills never pass the state Legislature, they never get voted on, even in committee. In fact, most never see the light of day in committee, not even for a public hearing. The last time medical marijuana reform received a public hearing was in 2009.

Representative Gary Hebl Assembly District 46 (D - Sun Prairie)
Representative Gary Hebl Assembly District 46 (D – Sun Prairie)

A recent bill LRB 2481/1 introduced by authors Senator Melissa Agard (D-Madison) and Assembly Representative Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) labeled “The People’s Voice Act” is currently being circulated for co-sponsorship. The bill would give petitioning power to the people to force a public hearing on a specific piece of legislation.

Both Senator Agard and Represenative Hebl are past authors of adult use cannabis legislation. Those previous legislative attempts have not resulted in the bills attracting a Republican co-sponsor, nor have the bills received a public hearing.

Agard and Hebl say they have seen far too many popular measures die unnoticed. So they are introducing a bill that would allow the public to petition to force the Legislature to hold a public hearing on any bill if enough people want it to happen. They’re calling it “The People’s Voice Act.”

According to the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau, less than half of the bills introduced in the last legislative session received a public hearing.

Do not get to excited, this bill would still have to first receive a public hearing to advance, which, based of the paragraph above means the odds are already against that. Add the political atmosphere in Wisconsin right now, it does not seem likely any progressive ideas that give power to the people will be tolerated under the heavy foot of the Republicans.

In many states citizens are able to put a vote to a binding referendum on a ballot, but the National Conference of State Legislatures told the Wisconsin Examiner this is the first bill of its kind in the nation. 

Even if it did pass, the legislation doesn’t make it too easy. The petition would have to be signed by enough registered Wisconsin voters to equal at least 3% of the people who voted in the last gubernatorial election. Currently that is more than 78,000 people. The Wisconsin Elections Commission would certify the petition and if enough people call for the hearing, one would have to be held before at least one legislative committee (it could be in the Senate, Assembly or a joint hearing) within 30 days.

The process and its certification would be similar to the rules for a recall petition, although it could be signed online. The time line for a recall petition is 60 days. Do the math. 78,000 total signatures needed / 60 days = 1,300 daily signatures.

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