Elections FAQ 13

What is “direct legislation” and what are its limits?
Direct legislation is a process that authorizes citizens in cities and villages to draft and submit a proposed ordinance or resolution to the governing body of the community for adoption or submission to the general electorate for adoption or rejection. Importantly, direct legislation authority “is a creature of statute and its use must comport with the requirements established by the legislature.” Heitman v. City of Mauston Common Council, 226 Wis. 2d 542, 547, 595 N.W.2d 450 (Ct. App. 1999) (citing Landt v. City of Wisconsin Dells, 30 Wis. 2d 470, 478-79, 141 N.W.2d 245 (1966)).

A petition for direct legislation must be signed by “[a] number of electors equal to at least 15 percent of the votes cast for governor at the last general election in their city or village.” Wis. Stat. sec. 9.20(1). Upon certification as to sufficiency and form by the city or village clerk, “[t]he common council or village board shall, without alteration, either pass the ordinance or resolution within 30 days following the date of the clerk’s final certificate, or submit it to the electors at the next spring or general election.” Wis. Stat. sec. 9.20(4). If adopted by the council or board or by the voters in the election, the ordinance cannot be vetoed, nor can it be repealed or amended for a period of two years, except by a vote of the electors. Wis. Stat. sec. 9.20(8).