Voters to Determine Changes to State Constitution

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Arkansas voters will decide the fate of three issues created by the state legislature, which could alter the Arkansas Constitution if they pass.

The issues include lengthening terms for local and state elected officials, expanding the power of the governor and removing the cap on state-issued bonds.

Arkansas state legislators added Issues No. 1, 2 and 3 to the ballot last year and will be known by their popular names, according to the Public Policy Center at the UA System Division of Agriculture’s 2016 voter guide.

Issue No. 1, popular name “Proposing an Amendment to the Arkansas Constitution Concerning the Terms, Election and Eligibility of Elected Officials,” will make four changes to the Arkansas Constitution if passed, according to the voter guide.

One of the changes is giving certain elected county officials such as sheriffs and county judges four-year terms, replacing the two-year term system. If passed, the change will take place for officials elected in the 2018 cycle.

Elected county officials currently have no limits on the number of terms they can serve.

The second proposed change will prevent elected county officials from holding a civil office at the same time. The amendment and Arkansas Constitution don’t define civil office but the courts have defined it as offices such as city attorney, mayor and municipal judge, amongst others.

The third change would allow unopposed candidates in local or state elections to be elected without appearing on the ballot.

The fourth section clarifies the Arkansas Constitution’s use of the phrase infamous crime, which prevents people who have committed such crimes as felony offenses, abuse of office, tampering and misdemeanors like fraud from holding an elected position.

Issue No.1 will make government more efficient and is a good amendment, said Sydney Combs, the president of the UA chapter of the College Republicans.

Issue No. 2’s popular name is “A Constitutional Amendment to allow the governor to retain his or her powers and duties when absent from the state.”

The Arkansas Constitution contains an amendment that gives the lieutenant governor the duties of the governor when the latter is out of state. The change will strike the phrase “absence from the state” from the Constitution, allowing governors to retain their powers and duties when they are out of the state, according to the voter guide.

“I always assumed that he did keep his powers when out of the state,” said Sam Flournoy, a graduate student who plans on voting.

This amendment may be viewed as diminishing the role of the lieutenant governor, Combs said.

Issue No. 3, popular name “An amendment to the Arkansas Constitution concerning job creation, job expansion, and economic development,” calls for several changes.

If passed, the amendment would remove the 5 percent limitation on the amount of bonds the state may issue for economic development projects and several other bond issues according to the voter guide.

Governments typically issue bonds to investors to pay for expensive projects like roads and buildings and are paid off over a specified amount of time with interest.

The current limitation does not allow the state to issue bonds to investors above 5 percent of the state’s general revenues from the past year.

Supporters said removing the limit would allow the state to issue more bonds to pay for larger projects and bring more jobs to Arkansas, according to the voter guide.

Opponents said if Issue No. 3 passes, the state could theoretically approve the use of 100 percent or more of its general revenues to large private projects and ruin the state’s budget, according to the voter guide.

“Issue No. 3 is a part of Gov. (Asa) Hutchinson's initiative to increase job growth and expand on his vision for Arkansas,” Combs said.

Flournoy can understand some of the concerns about Issue No. 3, but is planning to vote in favor of it.

“I believe it is necessary to improve infrastructure if you want to stay economically competitive,” Flournoy said.

None of the first three issues on the ballot seem like partisan issues and not very many people oppose them, Combs said.

Because of the more controversial nature of Issues 6 and 7, both involving medical marijuana, not as much attention is being paid to the first three issues, said Ryann Alonso, the former president of the UA chapter of the Young Democrats.

Issue No. 3 seems excessive and redundant and there are more pressing matters to deal with in Arkansas, but Issues 1 and 2 are not as controversial and are supported, Alonso said.

The Arkansas Supreme Court removed issues 4, 5 and 7 from the ballot in October.

Even though the issues may appear on some ballots and voting machines due to the rulings coming after some counties printed paper ballots or programmed voting machines, votes for the issues will not be counted, according to the voter guide.

Issue No. 7 was disqualified after the early-voting period began because of problems with signatures gathered to get the issue on the ballot.

Janine Parry, a professor of political science, called the court’s decision unusual.

“Well, it’s unusual for state courts anywhere in the U.S. to remove an item from the ballot after voting has commenced,” Parry said in an email. “Partly that’s a product of the extended early-vote period, but the justices should have seen that coming. It’s something most courts try to avoid.”

Over 100,000 signatures were submitted by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the sponsors of the issue, with 77,516 of the signatures originally validated, according to the court’s opinion.

The court granted lawyer Kara Benca’s petition to have the issue removed after they found that the number of valid signatures fell below the minimum required amount, according to the court’s opinion.

Issue No. 4 dealt with the amount of money attorneys could receive from their clients in medical injury lawsuits.

The court found the title of the amendment to be misleading and that the amendment failed to define the term “non-economic damages,” according to the Arkansas Supreme Court’s opinion.

“The voter would be unable to reach an intelligent and informed decision for or against the proposal without an understanding of the terms and the consequences of his or her vote,” said Paul Danielson, associate justice in the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Issue No. 5 would have allowed the establishment of three casinos to operate in Arkansas, one in Boone, Miller and Washington Counties, according to the voter guide.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the title of the amendment, which would have allowed sports gambling, was not legal and failed to inform voters that sports gambling is prohibited in Arkansas and would violate federal law.

“The ballot title in this case does not honestly and accurately reflect what is contained in the proposed Amendment,” Associate Justice Karen Baker said in the court opinion. “The voters are entitled to a ballot title that is honest, impartial, and intelligible and will give them a fair understanding of the issues presented.”

 

(1) comment

Kristin Higgins

Download the 2016 Arkansas Ballot Issues Voter Guide at www.uaex.edu/ballot. There, you will also find more information about who supports and opposes each of the four remaining ballot measures.

You can also go directly to www.uaex.edu/issue1, www.uaex.edu/issue2, www.uaex.edu/issue3, www.uaex.edu/issue6 to read more about the proposals and watch video summaries of each measure.

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