State Capitol Week in Review – July 16, 2022

LITTLE ROCK – Two interest groups submitted petitions to the Secretary of State seeking to have two proposed constitutional amendments placed on the November general election ballot.


One would legalize marijuana and the other would remove Pope County as a possible site for a gambling casino.


The group seeking to legalize marijuana turned in more than 190,000 signatures. The other group submitted more than 103,000 signatures.


To qualify for a place on the ballot, at least 89,151 signatures of registered voters must accompany the petitions. That represents 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the most recent election for governor.


Also, a required number of signatures must have been gathered in at least 15 counties. In each of the 15 counties the number of signatures must exceed 10 percent of the number of votes cast in that county in the most recent election for governor. This provision prevents an interest group from qualifying a ballot measure by collecting almost all the required signatures in one or two big cities.


The deadline was July 8 for submitting the petitions and signatures with the Secretary of State, whose office examines them to make sure they are valid.


The interest groups may continue collecting signatures for 30 days, to further ensure that they have enough valid ones, as long as their initial submission contained at least 75 percent of the required number. That means at least 66,864 of the original signatures must be valid in order for the interest groups to be able to continue collecting additional signatures.


Also, the Secretary of State submitted the proposed ballot titles and popular names with the state Board of Election Commissioners.


The Board must determine within 30 days of July 8 whether or not the ballot title is misleading. If it does not approve the ballot title the sponsor groups may appeal to the state Supreme Court, which must expedite its decision.


Historically, the state attorney general determined whether or not the ballot title was misleading, and did so before the sponsor groups began collecting signatures. The attorney general could instruct the sponsor groups to submit a different ballot title that was not misleading.


Act 376 of 2019 changed the law to give the Board of Election Commissioners the power to approve ballot titles. If the Board rejects a ballot title the sponsor group may not submit a new one with different language, as they could previously when the attorney general approved ballot titles.


Considering the controversial nature of both proposed amendments, legal challenges can be expected throughout the process. A group in favor of a Pope County casino has already spent more than $1 million to develop a resort with gambling near Russellville.


Arkansas voters approved Amendment 100 in 2018 to allow four casinos in Arkansas. Besides the much disputed Pope County location that has yet to open, they are at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, at Southland in West Memphis and at Saracen in Pine Bluff.


Arkansas voters approved Amendment 98 in 2016 to allow the cultivation and dispensing of medical marijuana. Officials in the Secretary of State’s office who verify signatures said that no one could remember a sponsor group ever surpassing the 190,000 signatures submitted by the sponsors of the recreational marijuana.