Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has rejected the form of a referendum on the law, Act 137, that prevents local civil rights ordinances that protect gay people.

She said that the ballot title was “designed in such manner that a vote “FOR” the issue could be a vote against the matter or viewpoint the voter believes himself or herself casting a vote for, and vice versa.”

Somebody in Rutledge’s office must have followed the referendum in Fayetteville. A vote FOR repeal of that city’s civil rights ordinance was a vote FOR discrimination, not a vote FOR the ordinance. Some people were confused (perhaps even in both directions.)

This is the ballot title:

Advertisement

A referendum to repeal the Arkansas Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act that prohibits a county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state from adopting or enforcing an ordinance resolution, rule, or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not in state law; and provides that such prohibition does not apply to a rule or policy that pertains only to employees of the county, municipality, or other political subdivision.

Seems pretty straightforward to me. Would she approve the title with the omission of the words to repeal and insertion of the word “of”?

Attorney David Couch, who submitted the proposal, will undoubtedly try again. But the delays could be important. Backers only have 90 days after formal adjournment to gather 51,000 signatures to refer the issue. They can’t gather signatures without a ballot title. The session won’t adjourn until early May.

Advertisement

Here’s information about the repeal campaign.

Act 137 is the work of Sen. Bart Hester of Cave Springs, who filed it because he hated the Fayetteville civil rights ordinance (and equal treatment under the law for gay people) and wants to stave off other local ordinances. The bill doesn’t have an emergency clause so it doesn’t take effect until 90 days after the session ends.

Ernest Dumas, who’s been around a few decades, weighs in:

Her opinion is correct.  If you get sufficient signatures before the act is to take effect, in July, there is no act for the voters to repeal. There will not be an act until the voters approve it. A referendum appears on the ballot simply as asking voters For Act….or HB…., Against Act… or HB… It’s simple for the voters to understand, no chance of misunderstanding and voting the opposite from what you intend.

The language of the 1958 referendum on the sales tax, which was passed by the legislature in 1957 and referred to the voters, I think by old Alec Washburn, the editor of the Hope Star, is instructive.

If he doesn’t get enough referral signatures (6 pct) then the petitions should propose repeal of the act.

Advertisement