SEN. ALAN CLARK: Read his "term limits" amendment closely.

Michael Wickline at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today reports on Sen. Alan Clark’s grand plan to give Arkansas a different term limits amendment than the 10-year limit Arkansas Term Limits hopes to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Beware the fine print.

Clark paints his new proposal, a 12-year limit, as makeup for the dishonest “term limits” amendment that he and other legislators put on the 2014 ballot. Voters approved because of the misleading term limits label, actually an extension that allowed some senators, with lucky draws, up to 20 years in the legislature. Importantly, it gave all legislators the ability to serve at least 16 years in a single chamber, an accrual of power over the past limit of six in the House and eight in the Senate.

What’s more, the amendment was nominally about ethics, but it provided a path to a tripling of legislative pay. The legislature also carved gaping loopholes in the supposed limits on lobbyist entertainment.

But back to Clark’s little ol‘ term limits proposal. It would apply only to those elected after Jan. 1, 2021. In practical terms, that means anyone elected from November 2022 forward, with the exception of a rare special election. So we’re stuck with many of the bunch we’ve got until at least Jan. 1, 2023 under Clark’s plan. And likely longer in many cases.

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Clark was first elected in 2012. He could seek office again in 2022 and serve a full four-year term for 14 in all.  What’s more, there’s this wrinkle:

A partial legislative term served as a result of a special election under Article 5, § 6, or a two-year term served as a result of apportionment of the Senate shall not be included in calculating the total number of years served by a member of the General Assembly first elected as a member of the General Assembly before January 1, 2021. 

So what if Clark, who was first elected before 2021, drew to run for a two-year term in 2022? Does that mean THAT particular election wouldn’t count against his time served? Could he run for another four-year term in 2024 and up his Senate tenure to 16 years, same as now? In short, for him to call this a “Term Limits Anemdnet” is, yet again, misleading.

The current term limits is a sham. Sen. Cecile Bledsoe will serve 20 years before she’s gone thanks to the Senate draws. Sen. Jason Rapert, should he strike it lucky and voters keeping sending him back, could be looking at a 22-year run because he’s already had two two-year terms that don’t count against his limit, or so Senate legal eagles have told me.

Clark also allows term-limited legislators to run again after a four-year hiatus. Think of the warhorses hankering to return to protect and serve the special interests.

The bottom line is that current legislators are four years away from a new clock starting to toll. Based on results this year, I’m thinking the 10-year limit is too long.

The legislature has already put a tax increase on the ballot in a proposed constitutional amendment. It can suggest two more. I wish it would adopt David Couch’s idea for a constitutional amendment that limits the legislature to one ballot proposal per election. 

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