By the bare minimum, the House voted today to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2020 that would change limits in a way that would, as one opponent noted, open the door to many more years of service by current legislators. The vote was 51-26 with nine voting
The measure drew opposition from Democrats.
Rep. John Walker (D-Little Rock) noted that this so-called term limits proposal actually was a term extender, because it allows current legislators, after serving the currently allowable 16 years (or as many as 20 in the case of some of the senators who’ll be grandfathered) to sit out four years and run to serve 12 more years. “It’s self-serving legislation. It’s not fair. It’s not reasonable.” He urged legislators not to be hypocrites.
Rep. Vivian Flowers objected to the provision that gives current legislators an advantage over “everyone else” because they are grandfathered and can still qualify for 16-year, or longer, times in office while those newly elected under the amendment will be capped at 12 years, though they could return for another run after four years.
Rep. Jim Dotson (R-Bentonville), defending the proposal, chose to depict the grandfather clause as a way to a smoother transition to avoid a “complete and total exodus” of current legislators.
Rep. Gayla McKenzie (R-Gravette) objected as she had in committee to the legislature using “Arkansas Term Limits” as a name for the amendment, the same as that on a 10-year term limits amendment being circulated by the grassroots Arkansas Term Limits organization. That organization gathered enough signatures for a similar amendment in 2018, but it was taken from the ballot by the Supreme Court after some technical signature challenges.
The current term limits — 16 years in a single chamber, with some exceptions that can see senators serve as long as 22 years — arose from a legislatively recommended constitutional amendment in 2014, with the help of a misleading ballot title. It was called a “term limits” amendment when it actually extended the term limits then of three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate.
Dotson chose to close with the argument people who opposed term limits always have used against them — that the vote can limit terms. He said there’s no guarantee someone could be elected again after sitting out four years. That person would return to the ballot without the benefit of incumbency. “The vast majority of people, after leaving office, never choose to put themselves through that again,” he said.
This will be the second constitutional amendment sent to the ballot in 2020. The other would make permanent a half-cent general sales tax with the money devoted to road building.
Coming soon, what the chamber of commerce wants, a constitutional amendment making popular petition drives all but impossible. It will take a two-thirds vote to put this anti democratic measure on the ballot but they don’t much like democracy at the special interest controlled Republican legislature.