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State Capitol Week in Review – October​ 9, 2020

LITTLE ROCK – In this year’s election, Arkansas voters will determine the outcome of three proposed amendments to the state Constitution.

If approved by voters, Issue One would make permanent the current half-cent sales tax that pays for highway construction and maintenance. In 2010, Arkansas voters approved spending the revenue from a half-cent sales tax on road work, and that tax is scheduled to expire in 2023.

Another measure on the ballot is Issue Two, which would limit the terms of Arkansas legislators to 12 years. However, current legislators would be “grandfathered” in and could serve 16 years, which is the current term limit in the Constitution.

A major change proposed by Issue Two would be that the 12-year limit would not be a lifetime limit. The current 16-year limit in the Constitution is a lifetime limit, which means an individual who is term limited may never again run for a seat in the state legislature.

Issue Two, if approved by voters, would limit an individual to 12 consecutive years of service in the legislature, at which point the individual would have to step down. However, after a wait of four years, that person would be able to run again for legislative office.

Issue Three is perhaps the most complex ballot issue this year, because it affects a complex procedure with which many Arkansans are not familiar. It would change the process by which organizations collect signatures to get citizen initiatives on the ballot.

The initiative process is how the lottery scholarship was established in Arkansas, and also how casino gambling and medical marijuana became legal.

Almost every initiative is been challenged in court by its opponents. Lawsuits challenge the validity of the signatures submitted to get the initiative placed on the ballot.

Another common legal challenge is to question the sufficiency of the ballot title. If a ballot title fails to reflect the substance of the proposed initiative, the Supreme Court will strike it from the ballot for being misleading to voters.

Almost every election year, the final Supreme Court decisions are not handed down until just a few days or weeks before the election. That can confuse voters. For example, this year several proposals have been invalidated, leaving only Issues One, Two and Three on the ballot.

Issue Three would move up the deadline for submitting signatures, from early July to January 15 in election years. Legal challenges would have to be filed by April 15.

Also, Issue Three would spread out signature gathering. Now, signatures must come from at least 15 counties. If approved by voters, Issue Three would require signatures be gathered from at least 45 counties.

It would raise the bar for the legislature, which now may refer up to three proposed constitutional amendments during each regular session by a simple majority vote. Issue Three would require a 60 percent majority in order for the General Assembly to refer a measure.

Between 1884 and 2018, the legislature referred 124 proposed constitutional amendments to the ballot. Arkansas voters approved 71 of those measures and defeated 53 of them.


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