State Capitol Week in Review – October 15, 2022

LITTLE ROCK – When Arkansas voters go to the polls on November 8 they will determine the fate of four proposed amendments to the state Constitution.


Three of the measures were referred to the ballot by the legislature. Issue One would grant the legislature the power to call itself into session. Issue Two would require a 60 percent majority for approval of future amendments and initiatives. Issue Three would prohibit state and local governments from burdening a person’s practice of religion, unless there is a compelling reason.


Issue Four was proposed by an interest group, to legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of marijuana for recreational purposes.


Issue One would change current language in the state Constitution that empowers only the governor to call a special session of the legislature. If approved by voters, Issue One would authorize legislators to call themselves into special session.


It could be done either by joint proclamation of the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, or by a proclamation signed by at least two-thirds of the membership of both the House and the Senate.


Issue One would not affect the current power of the governor to call special sessions.


Issue Two would require 60 percent majorities for approval of proposed amendments and initiated acts, rather than the current requirement that a simple majority is sufficient. It would affect proposed amendments referred by the legislature, as well as proposals by citizens’ groups.


Supporters of Issue Two say that under the current system, it has become too easy for special interest groups to change the Constitution, by spending large sums of money to pay canvassers to collect signatures and for television commercials.


Opponents say Issue Two would curtail the power of the people to govern themselves, and that the current system has rigorous standards to make sure that signature gathering is done honestly and openly.


Arkansas is one of 15 states that allow citizens to propose constitutional amendments and changes in state laws. Florida requires a 60 percent majority; Colorado requires 55 percent. Nevada requires a simple majority, but in two separate elections. Some states require supermajorities for approval of gambling or new taxes. Two states require only a simple majority, but voter turnout must exceed a certain threshold.


Issue Three would create a legal claim by which someone could file a lawsuit seeking relief from a government action that imposes on their religious beliefs.


Issue Four would allow adults to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. The eight cultivation facilities that are now allowed to grow medical marijuana would be granted the authority to grow it and sell it for non-medical purposes.


An additional 12 cultivation licenses would be issued.


Issue Four would grant a license to sell non-medical marijuana to the existing 40 dispensaries that are now licensed to sell medical marijuana, at their current location. Existing dispensaries also would automatically receive a second license to sell non-medical marijuana at a location at least five miles away from any current dispensary.


Using a lottery system, an additional 40 licenses would be issued to new dispensaries.


In other words, Issue Four would allow a maximum of 20 licenses to grow non-medical marijuana at regulated cultivation facilities, and a maximum of 120 retail dispensaries of non-medical marijuana.