Tolbert: AG Opinion Sought On New Term Limit Law

by Jason Tolbert (jasontcpa@yahoo.com) 17 views 

The new state constitutional Amendment 94 – Issue 3 on the ballot – has many moving parts.  Perhaps the most high profile feature is the change to term limits for state legislators. Under the prior limits, House members were restricted to 3 two-year terms and Senators could serve 2 four-year terms.  Most Senators were able to serve more than 8 years, however, as two-year terms occurring due to redistricting every 10 years did not count towards their term limits.

The new amendment changes the limit to 16 years in total, regardless of whether these years occur in the House or the Senate.  In theory, this is similar to the same maximum years allowed in both chambers of the Arkansas General Assembly – 6 years in the House plus 8 years in the Senate plus any additional years from redistricting. However, the devil is always in the details on these things and an opinion has been sought from the Attorney General by the amendment’s sponsor to clarify the new rules.

The full request from Sen. Jon Woods to outgoing AG Dustin McDaniel is below. The request primarily seeks an answer to a question raised by Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce president Randy Zook at a forum at the Clinton School of Public Service earlier this month.

“I have had at least 10 really good top-notch lawyers here in Little Rock tell me that the 16-year clock starts anew for everybody,” said Zook.

Woods disagreed saying that he believed years served since the original term limits law passed in 1992 count toward the 16-year limit as the new amendment modified Amendment 73.

In his request, Woods asks the AG: “Do years served in the General Assembly prior to the passage of Amendment 94 count towards the cumulative limit of sixteen years now imposed under Amendment 73, § 2?”

Woods also asks for clarification on how the years served in the legislature other than the standard full two-year term in the House and four-year term in the Senate should be interpreted. As the amendment is written, years served in a partial term from a special election or a two-year Senate term before or after the 10 year redistricting process do not count toward the 16-year limit. This means many Senators will be able to serve more than 16 years depending on how many two-year terms a Senator draws. Woods asks the AG to clarify this.

Here is the full AG opinion request:

The Honorable Attorney General Dustin McDaniel
Office of the Attorney General
323 Center Street, Suite 200
Little Rock, AR 72201

Dear Attorney General McDaniel:

I am writing to request your opinion on certain issues in the wake of the passage of Issue 3 (now known as Amendment 94) at the 2014 general election.

Section 3 of Amendment 94 amended Section 2 of Amendment 73 to the Arkansas Constitution as follows:

(a)  The Arkansas House of Representatives shall consist of members to be chosen every second year by the qualified electors of the several counties.  No member of the Arkansas House of Representatives may serve more than three such two year terms.

(b)  The Arkansas Senate shall consist of members to be chosen every four years by the qualified electors of the several districts.  No member of the Arkansas Senate may serve more than two such four year terms.

(c)(1)  A member of the General Assembly shall serve no more than sixteen (16) years, whether consecutive or nonconsecutive.

(2)  A member who completes his or her sixteenth year of service during a term of office for which he or she has been elected may serve until the completion of that term of office.

(3)  The years of service in both the Senate and the House of Representatives shall be added together and included to determine the total number of years in office.

(4)  A partial legislative term served as a result of a special election under Article 5, § 6, or a two-year term served as a result of apportionment of the Senate shall not be included in calculating the total number of years served by a member of the General Assembly.

My questions are as follows:

(1)  Do years served in the General Assembly prior to the passage of Amendment 94 count towards the cumulative limit of sixteen years now imposed under Amendment 73, § 2?  I specifically note Amendment 73, § 6(a), which was unaffected by Amendment 94:

This Amendment to the Arkansas Constitution shall take effect and be in operation on January 1, 1993, and its provisions shall be applicable to all person thereafter seeking election to the offices specified in this Amendment.

(2)  Are two-year terms served as a result of an apportionment of the Senate included when calculating the total number of years served by a member of the General Assembly?

(3)  Are partial legislative terms served as a result of a special election under Article 5, § 6 of the Arkansas Constitution included when calculating the total number of years served by a member of the General Assembly?

(4)  In follow up to Question (1), please consider the follow examples:

(A)  Assume a person sought election to the House of Representatives after January 1, 1993, was elected and served three two-year terms, and left office under the term limits imposed by Amendment 73 prior to adoption of Amendment 94.  In light of Amendment 94, may that person run again for the House of Representatives or for the Senate and, if elected, serve a maximum of ten more years in the General Assembly or, assuming the person completes his or her sixteenth year of service during a term of office to which he or she was elected, until the completion of that term of office?

(B)  Assume a person sought election to the Senate after January 1, 1993, was elected and served two four-year terms, and left office under the term limits imposed by Amendment 73 prior to adoption of Amendment 94.  In light of Amendment 94, may that person run again for the House of Representatives or Senate and, if elected, serve a maximum of eight more years in the General Assembly or, assuming the person completes his or her sixteenth year of service during a term of office to which he or she was elected, until the completion of that term of office?

(C)  If a current member of the House of Representatives is serving his or her second two-year term in the 90th General Assembly and seeks re-election in 2016, may that persons serve a maximum of twelve more years in the General Assembly or, assuming the person completes his or her sixteenth year of service during a term of office to which he or she was elected, until the completion of that term of office?

(D)  If a current member of the Senate is serving his or her second four-year term and in the 90th General Assembly and seeks re-election in 2016, may that person serve a maximum of eight more years in the General Assembly or, assuming the person completes his or her sixteenth year of service during a term of office to which he or she was elected, until the completion of that term of office?

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Respectfully,

Senator Jon Woods

District 7

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