State constitutional amendments proposed

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 118 views 

A Joint committee of the legislature referred two more proposed constitutional amendments for potential voter consideration and failed a measure previously expected to easily garner committee support.

The committee has also pushed through a proposal that could change Arkansas’ term limit rules.

On Wednesday (April 10), the panel could not muster enough votes to allow SJR 5, a tort reform proposal, out of the committee. The proposed constitutional amendment had a competing measure and a rift in the legal community complicated its passage. At the beginning of the session, there appeared to be consensus and momentum for a rewrite of the state’s tort laws.

Lawmakers did approve SJR 7, a measure that would give the legislature more review and approval over administrative rules. The proposal would make state agencies that promulgate rules be approved by a legislative committee in a legislative session or in the interim.

The panel also approved SJR 16, which changes the rules for initiative and referendum proposals. The measure requires those who submit statewide petitions to meet a 90% threshold of valid signatures if they seek to correct or amend an insufficient petition. It also requires the 90% signature threshold to be met in at least 15 counties.

The push for the threshold rule began when Sheffield Nelson submitted petitions seeking to raise Arkansas’ severance tax. In July 2012, The Arkansas Secretary of State’s office notified Nelson, leader of the Committee for a Fair Severance Tax, that of the 69,774 signatures submitted, only 21,347 were valid registered voters in Arkansas. The number of valid signatures represents 30.5% of those submitted, meaning nearly 70% were rejected.

The two proposed constitutional amendments must still be approved by the full House and Senate before qualifying as a proposal for voter consideration in the 2014 general election.

Last week, the panel approved HJR 1009, an ethics reform and term limits extension proposal. It has cleared the House and is awaiting a Senate referral.

A joint meeting of Senators and Representatives on Friday (April 5) referred only one proposed constitutional amendment for a potential 2014 vote – a measure that would alter ethics rules for lawmakers, dictate pay for elected officials and extend term limits.

HJR 1009, co-sponsored by Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, and Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, combined elements of a citizen-led initiative for ethics reform being pushed by a group known as Regnat Populus.

On Friday, a Joint State Agencies Committee referred the proposal as a possible constitutional amendment for voters to consider in the 2014 general election.

The measure, which is titled “The Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform Amendment of 2014,” would:
• Restrict campaign contributions from corporations and unions;
• Create a two-year cooling-off period for former legislators to become lobbyists;
• Ban gifts from lobbyists, but allows for limited exceptions at public functions and meetings;
• Create a citizens commission to set pay for the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government; and,
• Extends term limits for legislators to a total of 16 years of service.

State legislators can serve three terms (6 years) in the House of Representatives and two terms (8 years) in the State Senate.

Lawmakers in both chambers must still vote to approve referral of the proposed amendment to voters.