A House committee today endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to shorten existing term limits, except for those currently serving, and to allow a return to office after four years out of the legislature.
SJR 15 by Sen. Alan Clark has already cleared the Senate. Supporters of the organization Arkansas Term Limits opposed the measure. They hope to put a 10-year term limit proposal on the ballot last year. Their effort in 2018 was ruled off the ballot by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The legislature in 2014, under something called a term limits amendment, LENGTHENED term limits from six years in the House and eight in the Senate, to 16 years, which could all be in one chamber. Also, since two-year Senate terms don’t count against the limit, senators theoretically can serve as long as 22 years. Term limits proponents said you can’t “dynamite” an opponent out, given the power of incumbency.
The new term limits amendment has arisen in the legislature because of the broad popularity of term limits and the fear on legislators’ part that something tougher might reach the ballot. House sponsor Rep. Jim Dotson said SJR 15 “strikes a balance” — a 16-year limit for those elected in 2022 and beyond and the ability to return to run again after four years out of office.
Term limits proponents didn’t see it that way, but most of the discussion was about the legislature’s deeming its amendment the Term Limits Amendment, the same name given by Arkansas Term Limits to its ballot proposal. Rep. Gayla McKenzie offered the only legislative criticism of the measure, saying she was bothered by the title.
The measure passed the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on a voice vote and heads to the full House. With approval there, it would join a sales tax increase for highways as one of the three amendments the legislature may put on the ballot every two years.
Brutal honesty: Republican Rep. John Payton said he’d reacted favorably to the popular sentiment for term limits “before I got in.” Now he thinks term limits are a “threat to our form of government.” He said it should be unconstitutional to place a limit on how voters may choose to represent them. It takes the right of people “to have experienced representation,” he said.