David Couch, the Little Rock lawyer with long experience in ballot initiatives, has received formal notice that the world of people power has changed.
Couch had submitted to the attorney general’s office a proposed constitutional amendment to limit the General Assembly to placing one constitutional amendment on the ballot, rather than three. If there is to be special interest mischief from the legislature, the reasoning is that there might at least be less of it.
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He’s received formal notice from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge that a new state law that took effect March 8 makes his request to her moot. The attorney general no longer issues opinions on the form of ballot measures. Now such measures must be filed with the secretary of state and, once file-marked, petition circulation may begin. The bill also sets out new procedures for review of the ballot title and the like.
Rutledge wanted to be relieved of the duty. She’d thrown up a permanent roadblock to popular amendments until called down by the Supreme Court. She’s now shucked the duty.
Couch, who also plans a petition drive to establish a nonpartisan commission to draw legislative and congressional districts every 10 years, acknowledges that the legislature has also made it easier to disqualify petition signatures for even simple honest mistakes (a smudged notary seal, for example).
This could be the last hurrah. Sen. Keith Ingram (State Chamber of Commerce-West Memphis) a foe of the ballot initiative process, has written a proposed constitutional amendment that is a favorite to be among those selected for the November 2020 ballot. It would cripple, if not destroy, popular initiative access to the ballot. The legislature could call all the shots, including outlawing paid canvassers.
The push to kill popular petitions fits neatly with current efforts to neuter the minimum wage increase approved by voters and hamper implementation of medical marijuana legalization in as many ways possible.