A group seeking to curtail legislative interference with citizen-led constitutional amendments and initiated acts submitted a proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution Monday (Feb. 5) for Attorney General Tim Griffin’s review.
Known as the “Amendment to amend the initiative and referendum process,” attorney David Couch said he has been working with the League of Women Voters on a “direct democracy” proposal that would restrict the General Assembly from amending citizen-passed initiatives, clarify the legislature’s emergency clause voting process, prohibit monopolies through the initiative process, and state rules for the Attorney General’s role in reviewing ballot titles.
“Over the last year, I have a been working with the League of Women Voters and other interested individuals and groups to develop a policy to protect our constitutional right to direct democracy. The proposed initiated amendment, proposed popular name and ballot title were submitted to the Attorney General today,” Couch said.
The main points of the proposed constitutional amendment would:
- Prohibit the General Assembly from amending a constitutional amendment with a two-thirds vote;
- Establish a process where the AG is required to approve or substitute a ballot title in 10 days;
- Establish a procedure where a challenge to the amendment would occur prior to the circulation of signatures;
- Remove the AG from the process of a referendum, which is where citizens have a 90-day period to attempt to change a state law passed by the legislature. The measure would be named the title of the act that was passed;
- Require emergency clause votes on legislation occur at least 24 hours after the bill was approved;
- Prohibit any amendment that creates a monopoly or gives a specific individual, corporation or private business entity control of an initiative; and
- Prohibit the General Assembly from referring a constitutional amendment to change the initiative and referendum process.
Several of the parts of the direct democracy proposal address recent controversies involving the process.
Couch noted that the two-thirds vote to change a constitutional amendment is clearly stated in the Constitution, but has been restricted due to a 1951 legal ruling. The effort to name a referendum the same as the act passed is in response to a delay that occurred in a group’s effort to overturn the LEARNS Act.
The emergency clause clarification was also the subject of a legal dispute where the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed that the legislature could pair those votes despite language in the Constitution that some argued prohibited it. The provision to restrict the General Assembly from amending the initiative and referendum process is in response to several acts passed recently to add more counties required and canvasser qualifications to garner a proposal on the ballot.
“The possibility of the General Assembly to change a constitutional amendment initiated by the people and voted on by the people must be stopped,” Couch said.
“Three times in the last 10 years – 2014, 2020 and 2022 – the General Assembly has referred a constitutional amendment to the people to make the initiative process more difficult. This initiative prohibits the General Assembly from referring any amendments and provides that changes only may be made by amendments initiated by the people,” he said.