As predicted here yesterday, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce express train to deter populist petition campaigns left the station in the Senate this afternoon.

Under current House and Senate rules, a two-thirds vote of each chamber is required to put a third constitutional amendment on the ballot. Such an amendment couldn’t be considered until two had been approved.

The first amendment, a permanent half-cent sales tax increase for highways, was sent to the ballot earlier in the session. This afternoon, the Senate completed action on a second amendment — yet another disingenuously labeled “term limits” amendment in the manner of a 2014 amendment from the legislature that increased their time in office. The latest amendment pitched as reducing term limits from 16 to 12 years. But …. 1) current legislators are grandfathered under existing limits and 2) anyone can run again after sitting out four years. That means the amendment, if approved by voters, could allow some current legislators to serve up to 32 years.

The approval of the “term limits” amendment this afternoon opened the way for a vote on companion resolutions crafted by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce to discourage popular initiative campaigns. The two minimum wage increases made the business lobby unhappy as have some other populist ideas. The chamber can get whatever amendments it needs on the ballot through the legislature — see the two this year that provide hundreds of millions for highway contractors and incumbency protection for the legislators rented through corporate contributions to PACs.

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The critical vote was today’s vote to allow consideration of a third amendment. The amendment itself needs only a majority vote. But the resolution clearing the way for that vote, by Sen. Mathew Pitsch, needed 24. It passed 27-6. He got a few questions, including from Sen. Larry Teague, who asked if Pitsch’s motion was to clear the way for the “chamber of commerce’s” amendment. Pitsch acknowledged as much but said it was also the work of the governor, attorney general and state Election Commission. Pressed to say what the amendment was about, Pitsch called it “constitution protection” and “protection against all these things taking place.”

Protection of business interests from the people, he should have said. Remember what Rep. Robin Lundstrum said in trying to roll back the minimum wage increase: She views the legislature as a “check and balance” on the people.

Votes will be held on putting HJR 1008 on the ballot. Among its provisions: A key change It eliminates the “cure” period that now allows petitioners after submitting signatures an additional 30 days to gather more signatures if some of those submitted originally are disallowed.

It changes the date for making legal challenges to no later than April 15 of the election year. It sets a signature minimum — a half percent of registered voters — for 45 Arkansas counties, up from the current 15. Other separate legislation is cooking to further restrict the popular initiative. The business lobby would eliminate it altogether if they could.

A petition killing amendment’s addition to the ballot at least signals tort reform is dead this year. See you in the 2019 legislature on that one.

PS: A House committee is to meet after adjournment today to consider Rep. DeAnn Vaught’s resolution to clear the way for House consideration of the petition discouraging constitutional amendment. That resolution will require a two-thirds vote in the House for her proposed amendment to be considered.

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