Panel advances four Arkansas Constitutional amendments; to be pared to one

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 359 views 

A House subcommittee advanced four proposed constitutional amendments Tuesday, with the full committee scheduled to choose one Wednesday that likely will be considered by Arkansas voters in November 2018.

Advancing were amendments that would require voters to present a photo identification at the polls, make it harder to amend the Constitution, give the Legislature authority over higher education institutions, and give legislators authority over the Highway Commission.

The proposed amendments were approved quickly with no debate following presentations by sponsors of three other amendments that were not chosen. In all, House members proposed 20 constitutional amendments, and the House State Agencies & Governmental Affairs Constitutional Issues Subcommittee heard presentations regarding 12 of them.

The full committee is scheduled to choose one of the four Wednesday and then, if time permits, give its expected approval to the Senate’s chosen amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 8 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View. SJR 8 would limit jury awards in civil lawsuits and limit lawyers’ contingency fees to one-third of a judgment.

Legislators are allowed to refer three amendments to the voters, but rules adopted this year allow each chamber to refer one amendment, with a third amendment possible with a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate.

Chosen first was House Joint Resolution 1016 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, which would require voters to present a photo identification at their polling place or when voting absentee. The Legislature would establish by law the types of photo identification that would qualify. The state would be required to issue photographic identification for free to voters who do not have them. Voters without an identification would be able to cast a provisional ballot.

Lundstrum said Tuesday she would add an amendment allowing voters without an identification to sign a sworn statement identifying themselves under penalty of perjury. The change would match an amendment added to a similar voter identification statute, House Bill 1047 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, that passed a Senate committee Tuesday.

The resolution has 37 co-sponsors in the House in addition to Lundstrum and 12 co-sponsors in the Senate. None of the other three proposals has more than four sponsors.

The subcommittee also advanced House Joint Resolution 3 by Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, which includes many provisions meant to address issues with the process for amending the Constitution – and to make it harder to do so. For example, the amendment would require legislatively referred amendments to have the support of a two-thirds vote of the House and the Senate, instead of the current simple majority vote in both chambers. All amendments would require a three-fifths majority of voters, rather than the current simple majority. The attorney general would be required to review legislatively referred amendments, which currently doesn’t happen. Constitutional amendments could not bestow privileges on specific individuals and business entities, as has been attempted in several recent voter-initiated amendments, especially as they relate to casino and gambling amendments.

Also advanced by the subcommittee was House Joint Resolution 1011 by Rep. Trevor Drown, R-Dover, that would give the Legislature the authority to enact legislation impacting higher education institutions, including regarding tuition and fees, and would allow the Legislature to exercise oversight over those institutions’ operations and finances.

The subcommittee also advanced House Joint Resolution 1008 by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, which would give the Legislature authority over the State Highway Commission, which now is constitutionally autonomous.

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