No amendments for the 2016 ballot?

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 90 views 

Startling word leaked out of the state Capitol this past week. Arkansas voters in November 2016 may not face a referred Constitutional Amendment submitted by the Legislature of the 90th General Assembly.

Say what? You can’t be serious.

Elected officials are saying there is serious doubt a referred Constitutional Amendment from the Legislature will be offered to the public in 2016 November elections. The reason, well, there just does not seem to be definite need to propose a Constitutional Amendment at this time. So no harm, no foul for the voters to follow or not follow any lead from the Legislature to fix something that may or may not be broken?        

The last time the Legislature did not refer at least one proposed Constitutional Amendment to voters was in 1971, 44 years ago. That was back in the first term of Dale Bumpers as Governor. The members of the 68th General Assembly, which met from Jan. 11th to April 19, 1971, couldn’t agree on any issue to send to the public in Nov. 1972.

Back then, the Democrats held a solid majority in both the state House and Senate. The 66th and 67th  General Assemblies had just concluded four years of the state’s first Republican Governor since Reconstruction – that of the late Winthrop Rockefeller.

To put this in historic context, many members of the 90th General Assembly were not ever born in 1971. In fact 10 of the 35 state Senators were born after 1971. Over in the House, where members are considerably younger, 35 of the 100 members were born after 1971.

In 1972 there was an Initiated Act on the November ballot to consider as a Constitutional Amendment. It was the “full crew” act, which would allow railroads in the state to operate with fewer members on their crews aboard the trains. This finally passed in the General election of 1972.

Many in today’s media suspect there may be a last minute surge to place some a type of hastily conceived Referred Legislative Question to the public. Insiders say differently.

There seems to be political differences on philosophy of too much government surfacing between the members of the House and the Senate. Adding any proposed Constitutional amendments, some say, would be unable to pass on both floors in the short time left in the 90th General Assembly. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has made it clear to everyone listening in the past few weeks. He certainly hopes the Session ends soon and they all go back home. Some inside the Capitol say the session could end by the end of this coming week, if not then, possibly by the end of the month.

Should the session end as early as the end of the month, it would be one of the shortest sessions in the past several years.

Arkansas ballot measures come in several varieties. There are legislatively-referred constitutional amendments, which appear on the ballot because the state legislature voted to put it before the voters.

An Initiated constitutional amendment is placed on the ballot by a citizen effort after successfully meeting the signature and ballot title process.

How important are these questions to the public? Some of these proposed constitutional amendments over the years have become major policy revisions affecting the operations of the state, its counties and cities.

Others proposals, like Amendment 94, which was quickly amended late in the last session, have become much more worrisome to tax payers than expected. The Amendment 94 proposal about “ethics” ended up granting lawmakers a firm pay grid, placing at least state Representatives and State Senators in the top pay scale in the surrounding states on legislative pay. Oh, yeah, Amendment 94 also extended term limits to 16 years for all who once could serve only six and eight years respectively in the House and Senate.

Arkansans may not recall we are governed by the fifth such Constitution adopted in 1874. That Constitution is 141 years old. Over the past 141 years out state Constitution has been amended more than 95 times by public initiatives and legislative referred questions.

There have also been three different Constitutional Conventions since 1874, seeking to provide a new State Constitution. Arkansans in 1918, 1969, and 1979, were proposed these new revisions. However none of the resulting proposals were ratified or approved by the voters.

If the rumors are true,and let’s hope they are, there will be no legislative referred constitutional questions on the 2016 ballot. I believe no constitutional questions to ponder in November 2016 from the Legislature is surely a good thing.